Sunday, May 30, 2010

On Not Following The Leader

Comparisons currently abound between G.W. Bush's Katrina response and Obama's BP spill response. Increasingly the Obama response is found lacking, even in Progressive solons, in a manner similar to the former. Rubbish. As Bush's response was wildly mischaracterized and grotesquely unfairly attacked in like wise Obama is taking heat for cirumstances beyond his, or any president's, control. They take the heat however illogical that might be and speaking of possible illogic a fair percentage of the electorate that swooned over the "change" promised by the Chicago Kid are suddenly in a far less receptive mood after assesing the Kid's actually attempted wholesale changes to the economy and health system. Obama may be a "leader" by trying to be "out in front" of needed change but being too far out can put one out of sight of the bulk of the electorate. For all the blather about Americans being sheep they are the least easily led folk on the planet outside the mountains of Afghanistan.

It is often impossible for a president to know whether he is leading the public or dragging it against its will. Obama seems to be leaning ever the latter way and his downward poll drift reflects that. High dudgeon and rhetorical overreach may win elections but they almost immediately become a liability a few seconds after a newbie president's backside hits the bottom of the Big Chair. And pushing really hard out of the gate virtually guarantees equally hard pushback from the electorate in the fullness of time.

Obama has pushed harder and faster than any president since at least FDR and the public is pushing back just as hard. The relentlessly promoted air of crisis that has informed this push is simply not felt outside the cloisters of DC. The economy is poor but it's wildly far from a 30s style depression, the majority of citizens like their current health care arrangements, and the bulk of the electorate is comfortable with the idea of American Exceptionalism. Wholesale economic rearrangement and constant international apologias may thrill the heartstrings of the Progressive political class but they fall flat with the centrist majority needed to re-elect a party leader to national office.

Obama has not gone one program too far. He's gone a baker's dozen, and several trillion dollars, too far and the electorate is hanging back grumbling and kvetching about the forced march. Obama was not kidding about "change". He's pushing it in spades, doing his best to do business a different way, and is rapidly finding out that the multicultural internationalist tropes beloved of Progressive academia are not playing very well in Peoria, or in Houston, Topeka, Albuquerque, Grand Rapids, Macon, Missoula, Nashville, Spartanburg, or pretty much any average center-right polity between the coasts. Many were fooled once in 2008. It is becoming less and less likely that they will be fooled twice.

Even the denizens of hard-core progressive redoubts on the coasts, and in the ever more stressed Rust Belt, are finding out the hard-core way that headlong governmental fiscal profligacy along with a headlong pursuit of absurdly costly and counterproductive green "initiatives" have proven to be a high-speed maglev ride to bankruptcy. If the coasts ever get that old time fiscal religion then Progressives can kiss the White House goodbye for a generation, again.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Quo Vadis Ya'll?

In this country we have been exploring the limits of government for over 200 years and the results are in. There do not appear to be any limits to the power of government. And by any I mean any at all. It is extremely difficult to find an exception to this. I cannot think of any currently pursued activity by the citizens of the western world that is free from local, state, or federal government regulation. Not work, not play, not eating, not eliminating, not sex, not education, not speaking, not living, not dying, not nothin' nohow.

It is true that we live in an interconnected society but in our modernist zeal we have taken this to mean that any activity, however minute, affects some other person or social institution and perforce some governmental entity must regulate that activity. I defy anyone to pick an activity that is entirely free of regulation.

We cannot buy any product, a car, a boat, a steak, television, model airplane, handbag, pair of shoes, coffee pot, bar of soap, vegetable, quart of milk, mattress, financial instrument, computer, telephone, road grader, box of cereal, bottle of soda, tee-shirt, space shuttle, fishing rod, pack of cigarettes, bag of cookies, roll of toilet paper, fan, picture frame, lamp, cow, spoon, ball of twine, tire, weapon, wooden board, broom, piece of furniture, aspirin, ladder, refrigerator, light bulb, can of paint, baseball, toothpick, rubber ducky, candle, condom, guitar, hammer, stick of gum, sex toy, screwdriver, lawnmower, locomotive, egg, jetliner, light switch, faucet, paper plate, toilet, bicycle, steel bar, screen door, piano, etc. etc. etc. etc. ad infinitum and nauseum that does not have every detail of its manufacture and sale extensively ranged about by dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of pages of regulation.

Without vasty reams of regulations pre and proscribing our actions we can not: drive a car, make/get a loan, hire a painter, rent a chainsaw, build a house, send a letter, fire a gun, start a business, hunt a deer, catch a fish, raise a child, dig a well, take out the trash, change our oil, have our nails done or hair cut, fix the plumbing, use a phone, ride a bike, paint the garage, mow the lawn, sail a boat, take a bus, oogle a babe or a stud, tell an ethnic joke, cut down a tree, keep chickens, fly the flag, hire/fire an employee, take a cab, ride a horse, make a campfire, smoke a cigar, fly a plane, etc. etc. unto a google of etceteras.

And in the case of every single product, service, and action there is some segment of the population clamoring for yet more regulation. Government at all levels is happily obliging at a furious pace. I have no doubt that if every page of regulation were counted the total would be in the many tens of millions.

One has to wonder if there is really any meaningful decision that a member of any developed nation that can make at all without governmental guidance. We have rocketed smartly past Orwellianism and entered realms of state control for which there are no sufficiently descriptive terms. Control that would leave Marx, Lenin, and Mao agog at our audacity. Control that bids fair to ape the religious doctrine of pre-destination. Government control has in large part already replaced meaningful discretion in our behaviors and commercial activities. We have decided, by degrees, that we as citizens are incapable of negotiating the modern world without the hand of the state to chivvy us along at every turn. The state has our back, front, top and bottom. We are in its allegedly succoring embrace in all things.

Noisy denigrations of the the "nanny state" abound but the impetus for control spans the political spectrum. Divisions are based on what kind of control is appropriate in any given case and little thought is given to the quaint rapidly fading notion that perhaps we should not regulate this or that something or other at all. Perhaps that is simply not possible any more. We as a society certainly seem to be convinced of it.

This sounds more grim than I really mean it to be but I hope that life extension technologies do not happen so soon that I have to confront the choice of whether or not to be around when the ideas of complete social control reach an inevitable endpoint. It may be a supremely comfortable and safe existence but the vasty unintended consequences of infinite control on the human psyche will almost surely be unpleasant to behold for anyone who once lived in the quaint and unlamented long lost age of individualism.