Friday, March 06, 2009


I mentioned in a recent comment that one of my colleagues jumped me with the question of whether I, like Rush, want Obama to fail. My reply, that I want the country to succeed and expect stupid policies to fail, because of their stupidity, led only to him repeating the gotcha question. Political debate has become so very pointless.

Here's the dangerous climate we're in: under banner of global economic calamity, the party that controls both the executive and legislative branches will try to do all the things it has wanted to do for a long time but couldn't do politically. A parallel: When I worked at Tulane in the early 90s, we had consultants running all over campus, doing interviews and analysis to come up with recommendations for eliminating $22m from the operating budget. They came up with a number of bold but politically difficult recommendations. The university president at the time didn't have the stones or the political capital to enact most of the recommendations, so the budget cuts were not achieved and the same problems lingered. When Katrina hit, the new president used the banner of natural disaster to unilaterally enact many of the recommendations that had come down 15 years before: firing tenured faculty, combining and shutting down unprofitable schools, departments and programs, and so forth. He could do all the things he had always wanted to do, because the external environment gave him cover and a window to act. But the things he did were not caused by, or even related to, Katrina. They were things he always wanted to do, and now could, because, well, post-Katrina, things are different, there's urgency, it's time for bold action.

So now Obama, under cover of economic crisis, promises bold action. But the bold actions he promises are not related to the economic crisis, they are just the same old things they've always wanted to do but couldn't. Krauthammer:
And yet with our financial house on fire, Obama makes clear both in his speech and his budget that the essence of his presidency will be the transformation of health care, education and energy. Four months after winning the election, six weeks after his swearing in, Obama has yet to unveil a plan to deal with the banking crisis.

"You never want a serious crisis to go to waste," said Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. "This crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things that you could not do before."

Things. Now we know what they are. The markets' recent precipitous decline is a reaction not just to the absence of any plausible bank rescue plan, but also to the suspicion that Obama sees the continuing financial crisis as usefully creating the psychological conditions -- the sense of crisis bordering on fear-itself panic -- for enacting his "Big Bang" agenda to federalize and/or socialize health care, education and energy, the commanding heights of post-industrial society.

Clever politics, but intellectually dishonest to the core. Health, education and energy -- worthy and weighty as they may be -- are not the cause of our financial collapse. And they are not the cure. The fraudulent claim that they are both cause and cure is the rhetorical device by which an ambitious president intends to enact the most radical agenda of social transformation seen in our lifetime.

Dems are happy that they finally have their way and can do their thing. They will be less happy if they do get their way and the global economy goes the way of the Dow, as it must. We are seeing this already in the markets since Election Day. Then hopefully their political fortunes follow the same precipitious trend in upcoming election cycles -- but not so precipitous that we get errors at the opposite extreme. Our political system works best when nothing major gets accomplished, that's part of its genius.

I once came across a great bit of wisdom, in a counseling book I think, not to create an unnecessary crisis, and not to prevent a necessary one. Serious debate around that principle would be as helpful as it is unlikely.

1 comment:

Tom said...

Krauthammer nails it as usual. It’s better put than even Rush would say it.

Yeah, back to gridlock!

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