Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Dictatorship of Hope and Change

Roger Simon at Pajamas Media calls it nostalgie du fascisme ("The Culture Wars are Turning," May 24, 2010). Woody Allen tells a Spanish magazine that Barack Obama needs to be given dictatorial power for just a "few years" to get us out of what he sees as our various messes.

Sentiments such as Woody has expressed indicate a liberal impatience with messiness of free government, which is in part the necessity of persuading your neighbors in sufficient numbers to bring your views into law. It also indicates a liberal arrogance that precludes democratic compromise.

I would be tempted to dismiss these as the ridiculous babbling of a Hollywood comedian, except that liberal columnist Thomas Friedman, the winner of three Pulitzer Prizes (1983, 1988, 2002), recently said the same thing on Meet the Press, and veteran journalist Andrea Mitchell agreed with him.

MR. GREGORY: I want to follow up on one point, though, Tom Friedman, which is when you have such activism on the left and the right, what does that do to the political center and how do you govern in that respect? Bob Bennett, the senator who was defeated in a nominated convention in Utah, wrote this in The Washington Post this morning, "The tea party movement's ... two strongest slogans," he writes, "are `Send a message to Washington,' `Take back America.' I know both very well because they were the main tools used to defeat me ... two weeks ago. ... Yet when the new members of Congress whom these slogans elect in November take office ... will they stand firmly on partisan sidelines continuing to shout slogans? Or will they reach across the aisle in the interest of the country? ... If they want their movement to be more than a wave that crashes on the beach and then recedes back into the ocean, leaving nothing behind but empty sand, they should stop the `gloom talk.' These are not the worst of times we have ever faced, nor is the Constitution under serious threat." Where is the center that actually does something, that actually achieves things in Washington if this is what we're creating?

MR. FRIEDMAN: Well, David, it's been decimated. It's been decimated by everything from the gerrymandering of political districts to cable television to an Internet where I can create a digital lynch mob against you from the left or right if I don't like where you're going, to the fact that money and politics is so out of control--really our Congress is a forum for legalized bribery. You know, that's really what, what it's come down to. So I don't--I, I--I'm worried about this, it's why I have fantasized--don't get me wrong--but that what if we could just be China for a day? I mean, just, just, just one day. You know, I mean, where we could actually, you know, authorize the right solutions, and I do think there is a sense of that, on, on everything from the economy to environment. I don't want to be China for a second, OK, I want my democracy to work with the same authority, focus and stick-to-itiveness. But right now we have a system that can only produce suboptimal solutions.

MS. MITCHELL: And, in fact, Tom, you're absolutely right. One case in point, the Financial Regulation Bill, which we can get to...

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

MS. MITCHELL: ...but Chris Dodd realized that Bob Bennett, with whom he wanted to work, the ranking member on the Banking Committee, was so swept away by his fight back home in Utah that he could not work across party lines, and that there is so much punishment for anyone who works across party lines to try to come up the best solutions so they end up with things that are not optimal.

MR. GIGOT: We'd all be in jail if we were China for a second.

MR. FRIEDMAN: No, I--it's--I understand. I don't want to be China, I want our system to work, though.

We all know what's right, apparently. It's just our hopelessly broken democratic process that's getting in the way. They speak as though we're the Weimar Republic. And what do you think of someone who laments the disappearance of the political center while at the same time longing for dictatorial powers? Notice that it took the Wall Street Journal's Paul Gigot to step in with the obvious: The cameras are rolling, and you're talking like crazy people.

Friedman, the prophet of the broadsheet, expressed the same fascinating political proposal to Tom Brokaw in 2008, again on Meet The Press.

MR. BROKAW: You have an intriguing proposition in this book. You'd like to be China for a day, just one day.

MR. FRIEDMAN: Well, it comes from actually a dialogue I had with Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, and Jeff was making the point that, you know, really almost out of exasperation of a company that's been trying to be an energy innovative leader, saying, "Look, Tom, we need is"--what Jeff said is we need a president who's going to set the right price for carbon. Set the right standard, set the right regulation. Shape the market so it will be innovative. Everyone will kind of whine and moan for a month and then the whole ecosystem will take off. And I thought about that afterwards and I said to him, "You know, Jeff, what you're really saying is, `If only we could be China for a day. Just one day.'" So I wrote a chapter called "China for a day, but not for two." Really, about what we would do if for one day we could impose, cut through all the lobbyists, all the amendments, all the earmarks, and actually impose the right conditions to get our market to take off.

As he indicates in the interview, he was summarizing the point he makes at the beginning of chapter 16 of his book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded, "China for a Day (But Not for Two)."

As far as I am concerned, China's system of government is inferior to ours in every respect--except one. That is the ability of China's current generation of leaders--if they want to--to cut through all their legacy industries, all the pleading special interests, all the bureaucratic obstacles, all the worries of a voter backlash, and simply order top-down the sweeping change in prices, regulations, standards, education, and infrastructure that reflect China's strategic long-term national interests, changes that would normally take Western democracies years or decades to debate and implement (pp. 372-373).

In other words, China's system of government is inferior to ours in every way except for the totalitarian power the rulers have at their disposal. It's like saying you deplore apartheid except for the way it treats the races.

But the source of their annoyance is not really those nasty Republicans. At bottom, it is the dumb sheep they represent--chief among whom are country people and Evangelical Christians. Elizabeth Scalia reports more fully on this at First Things, including this nice observation:

The leftist party that these people support is currently in control of both houses of congress and the White House (and they are well-represented within the federal judiciary) and yet, it is not enough. The power is not pure enough, it is not invincible enough; their power is diluted because, dammit, those little people crowing about the constitution all over the internets are mucking things up!

Republican government, that is, self-government by a free people, unlike mere democracy, requires a people who has the collective capacity for self-government. They need a minimal level of education generally, an understanding of their system of government and of the value of their liberties, and a moral restraint that in most cases comes by devotion to a religion that is compatible with republican government. People who long for these sorts of emergency powers--or perhaps only the power to "deem" major health care reform bills into law--think of most Americans as comparable to the poor, tribal, historically tyrannized, and culturally slavish people in "developing" countries who are not quite ready for democratically accountable government. This is one reason there is a Tea Party movement storming its way across the American political landscape, heading for November and beyond.

Click on the blog's "fascism" label for posts during the 2008 election season observing fascist tendencies on the left in general and among Obama supporters in particular.

Also, have a look at Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism.

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