Streetwise Professor

August 15, 2009

An Historic Moment

Filed under: Climate Change,Economics,Politics — The Professor @ 9:33 am

In my post-election quasi-rant, I considered the possibility that the worse, the better:  that it would be better in the end for liberty and more limited government if Obama and the Congressional Democrats indulged the wildest policy fantasies in health care, climate change, and domestic government spending.  I conjectured that this would set off a popular reaction that would derail these endeavors.

The first part of the scenario has definitely played out.  Indeed, Obama, by delegating his agenda to the almost uniformly leftist leadership of Congress, and exploiting the financial crisis and sharp recession, has pursued a far more thoroughgoing attempt to reshape America than I thought possible even in my gloomiest moments.

And now there are clear indications that the second part of the scenario is playing out as well. The tumults at Congressional townhalls in particular are the most palpable evidence of this, but that is only the tip of the iceberg.

Much of this opposition is inarticulate at best, and at the fringes degenerates into sputtering and at times ugly rage.  But it is genuine.

And the coastal elites are by no means pleased.  (It is ironic, isn’t it, that leftists praise anger and rage as evidence of authenticity–except when it is directed at them?)  The divide over health care in particular, and to a slightly lesser degree cap & trade, is just another manifestation of the same cultural schism that makes figures like Sarah Palin so divisive.

For government-dominated health care (and the rest of the Obama agenda) is an elite project; progressivism (and Progressivism) has always been elitist, and more than willing to coerce the great unwashed into doing what their betters know is good for them.  It looks to Europe for its inspiration, and is dismissive of distinctively American institutions, and of the vision of the Founders in particular.

But Americans have the infuriating habit of not being Europeans.  They are far less deferential to authority, and to the authority of self-styled elites in particular.  European society is far-less open access than the US; just consider the dominance of the graduates of a few elite schools in French government.  Consequently, the elites have a much rougher time getting their way here, than in Europe.

We are at a historical moment.  In my post-election post, I shrunk from hoping for the worse-the-better because I feared that the US had become sufficiently Europeanized that the agenda would be implemented, at the eternal cost of our liberties and future prosperity.  The coming couple of months–most notably, the period of the Congressional recess and the first weeks after its return–will be decisive.

The tragedy is that the organized (and I use that term very loosely) political opposition, the Republican Party, is leaderless, clueless, and itself far too complicit in the statist project to provide a compelling and constructive alternative.  As a result, the current opposition, energetic as it is, is also inchoate and likely to dissipate as soon as this round of the health care and cap & trade debates ends.  Meaning that even if this battle is won, the statist elites will be back.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. SWP’s nightmare

    Adults under 30 are essentially evenly divided: 37% prefer capitalism, 33% socialism, and 30% are undecided. Thirty-somethings are a bit more supportive of the free-enterprise approach with 49% for capitalism and 26% for socialism. Adults over 40 strongly favor capitalism, and just 13% of those older Americans believe socialism is better. …

    Other survey data supports that notion. Rather than seeing large corporations as committed to free markets, two-out-of-three Americans believe that big government and big business often work together in ways that hurt consumers and investors.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — August 15, 2009 @ 2:10 pm

  2. 1. My nightmare? It’s not like I’m surprised, or that I ever for a moment thought that my views were anything near a majority.
    2. You may be falling for the fallacy that people’s views from their 20s will remain unchanged when they get into their 40s, etc. Not true.
    3. I definitely believe that gov’t and big business work together in ways that hurt consumers and investors. That’s been the view of classical liberals since Adam Smith, and updated by Friedman and Stigler especially at Chicago.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — August 15, 2009 @ 3:47 pm

  3. But anyhow, I basically agree with you.

    IIRC, I also noted that the crisis, and Obama’s perceived responsibility for it, will create a populist-conservative reaction. Interestingly, from what I’ve been reading of the other extreme (the hardcore socialists), they perceive Obama as not going far enough and being in thrall to the corporate interests he (supposedly) serves. So really the pressure from both fronts will increase, between the people who think he is doing too much (like the tea partiers), and those who think he is doing far too little. The US could go along the Huey Long path as easily as the Jacksonian one.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — August 16, 2009 @ 12:37 am

  4. […] (finance and Russia), but he has acute insight elsewhere as well. The Streetwise Professor*: An Historic Moment *Bio […]

    Pingback by US politics - Hamsterwheel - Page 245 - PPRuNe Forums — August 16, 2009 @ 5:19 am

  5. There is a ‘hard deck’ in American Politics. The Frontier and Pioneer (Independence ethic) underpins all politics, even Liberal (Progressive). The Well has a bottom, and we are recently re-introduced to it. Have Faith, the only worry is damage can be inflicted while unmasking the Sleeping Patriot. But he still has a pitchfork, a Torch, and a raspy ‘fu’ for the traitors.

    Comment by Will Fraser — August 16, 2009 @ 10:20 am

  6. I am reminded of this quote – IF you are not a socialist at 16 you are heartless. If you are still a socialist at 40, you are brainless.

    But that doesn’t defend the current health care system. India can provide superior health care at 1/10000 times the cost – thanks to fewer litigation and unbundling of insurance and employment. Trust me I can tell from my personal experience that you get way better care in govt run hospitals in India than any in the USA for 95% of the ailments. The common sense approach of our doctors (and technicians / engineers etc) works way better than the cookbook approach that defines the american way of life. The superiority of the American system comes in when we address long term care, chronic illnesses and difficult to treat medical conditions.

    Comment by Surya — August 16, 2009 @ 12:21 pm

  7. That first unedited post of mine got away(please delete it) and lets try this version:

    Obama’s grand socialist universal health care scheme is going down the tubes, so is the economic lunacy of Cap n Trade, next to get shot to hell is the Democrat’s most likely stealth amnesty immigration reform, and so it goes.

    The Democrats are spectacularly tin eared to the fact that Americans in the face of horrific deficits, unemployment and the housing meltdown don’t want the lunacy of grand socialist spending schemes in their lives and hitting their wallets.

    I don’t think the Obama administration will ever recover. Boy Wonder blew it. Americans are doing what we do best when we suspect that elitists are ascending in power and privilege and that is in-your-face pushing them back. The tax and spend slobs are cancelling their townhall recess meetings right and left this month because of the angry populist backlash.

    We live in interesting times.

    Comment by penny — August 16, 2009 @ 3:16 pm

  8. Surya–

    Agree completely that there are problems in the US health care system. The ironic thing is that they are largely attributable to past gov’t screw ups, so we are supposed to fix them by imposing a bigger gov’t screw up. Basic things–remove the tax preference for health insurance, eliminate most coverage mandates, permit more competition in insurance supply.


    I hope you are right. It’s what I thought might happen when I wrote immediately after the election. I still have my concerns that this lot is so ideologically driven that they might perform a political Kamikaze mission.

    Will Fraser–

    Hope you’re right too. Sound like a fellow Jacksonian;-) And are you Navy or ex-Navy?

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — August 16, 2009 @ 4:05 pm

  9. SWP, I don’t think you went far enough in your characterization of “lib elites.”

    They think themselves brilliant, and certainly far smarter than you or I or anyone else.

    And they think themselves beneficent – using Other People’s Money, of course.

    And they simply can’t stand it when the “simple people” don’t appreciate their brilliance and beneficence.

    Their brilliance and beneficence depends, of course, on hordes of minions carrying out their lofty, nay, heavenly wonderfulness.

    There are indeed strange reactions coming from the “wonderful left” to the town hall meetings.

    One is – “it’s really too early to tell if people are upset.”

    Another is – “they are using terrorist (insert similar words here) tactics.”

    Another is – “they are lying.”

    Of course, I have seen plenty of lies on the part of Obama and Spector and the other salesmen. Not that there hasn’t been exaggeration on Palin’s part.

    The careful use of the phrase “we are trying to ‘fix’ health care” has not managed to mask what people understand – Obama and his lefties are trying to turn the US into a socialist country.

    Alan Keyes was absolutely right about Obama.

    Comment by elmer — August 19, 2009 @ 8:21 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress