Consummate dilettantism!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Anti-Obama Broadside

Don't blame me, I voted for McCain!

Count me among the cynics. ‘Tis always better to doubt than to believe, and there is no shortage of reasons to doubt. We seem to be stuck in a timeless universe, living in a moment that knows no past and no future. The boundless enthusiasm for Barack Obama is simply not proportionate to what he has done or plans to do, nor can the nation hope itself out of the mess it is in. Can the President bail the country out by resuscitating failed industries, by spending on projects that cannot possibly commence until the “crisis” has passed, by using our money better than we ourselves can? Can he outlaw partisanship and “unify” government, an idea that I hope sounds as scary to me as it does to you? We were promised “change,” an end to partisanship. (Not to say that partisanship is a bad thing; “unifying” government sounds awfully scary to me. "Working together" is often a recipe for disaster, especially when those working together have more collective power than any other body in the entire world.) But the stimulus bill was voted for along very partisan lines. We were told there would be an end to earmarks and special interest lobbying, a veritable political revolution! This is obviously impossible when only a few hundred people have a say in where billions of dollars are spent. Blinded by the magical brilliance of the inauguration, we seem to have forgotten that what goes on in Washington is very real and very serious. There is a reality here that few of us wish to confront – we should never expect salvation from lofty platitudes, nor that hopeful change is some unalloyed good.

“Theoretical nonsense!” you cry. But from the botched and throttled nominations to the pork-laden, gleefully partisan shopping spree (the long-suppressed aspirations of the Democrats thus revealed), there are plenty of real things to be upset about. Watching the administration mollycoddle the American people with such patronizingly clichéd phrases as “get people back to work” makes me wonder how many people actually believe that it is the government’s task to run the economy. How this “stimulus” is even supposed to work, I don’t know – how can you prime a pump when you’re destroying the pump for material with which to prime it? Frédéric Bastiat gives us a classic example of this fallacy; breaking the window of a house will give a job to a window maker, but it will take away a job from a worker whom the owner of that house would otherwise have paid to do some other task. Good, solid infrastructure spending is one thing, and there’s a cool $70 billion in the bill for exactly this purpose; but the rest of the money is mostly going towards projects that don’t pay back monetarily and can hardly be called “stimulating.” “Democrats as deficit hawks” is now ancient history, a fading curiosity of the Bush years.

And yet! You see, there’s an odd pleasure some get from watching the misery of others – some call it schadenfreude, others epicaricacy – that is precisely what I think is happening now. As conservatives watch pained liberals wincing at the failures of the new administration and at the realization that their lobbyist-hating hero is a man after all, they find solace in a sort of perverse bliss. Rush Limbaugh hopes Obama fails, and for what other reason than to say “I told you so”? This is disgusting and wrong; either call out Obama or cheer him on. Don’t relish in his mistakes.

But this is no license to give him a pass. Obama has been proclaiming for months now his absolute dedication to changing the “politics of fear” into the “politics of hope.” How can anyone take him seriously when he’s been practicing the politics of fear from the beginning of his term? If we don’t throw caution to the wind and spend nearly a trillion dollars (roughly equivalent to the entire federal budget in 1984) on programs whose value in stimulating the economy is extremely questionable, we’re all going to die, or something. That seems awfully similar to “pass the Patriot Act right away, or we’re all going to die” or “invade Iraq right away, or we’re all going to die”. Fear, not hope; expediency, not caution. But politicians are necessarily professional obfuscators. It is a requirement of their profession that they be so – it is simply impossible to get elected by listing all the caveats ad nauseam (what politics is). And so I think that more than a dose of economic “stimulus”, we need a dose of reality. Take two and call me in the morning.


  1. Interestingly, I had used that same word on my Blog (my favorite word!), "epicaricacy," to describe the same concept. And...yet...I wrote it from the opposite political viewpoint. And to think you're a Chicagoan!

    Where would our country have been had our forefathers believed, "Tis always better to doubt than to believe"? You probably wouldn't have been here. Indeed, the Internet probably wouldn't be here!

  2. Ah, but the founders were doubters to the core! They weren't misty-eyed idealists like the French; they were solid pragmatists with a few good ideas. Chief among them was a firm belief that government should be limited; they doubted the inherit goodness of man.