April 22, 2009

Imposed "Responsibility" Is Just Coercion

Justin Katz

It's disorienting to hear folks who follow politics for a living take speeches as sincere explanations of politicians' hopes and intentions. One would expect, as a case in point, David Brooks to understand the dangerous undercurrents of a speech by President Obama that Brooks describes as "a small masterpiece" of "explication."

His view was clear. The market is dynamic and important, but it makes people reckless, parochial and dangerously shortsighted. The market needs adult supervision — a leadership class made up of people who appreciate the market but who also have committed themselves to public service, and who therefore take the long view and are more conscious of the public good.

Obama is building this new leadership class. His administration has become a domestic I.M.F., consisting of teams of experts who can swoop in and provide long-term solutions when systems — finance, housing, health care, education, autos — have broken down.

When the members of this new establishment are confronted with a broken system — whether it involves hospitals, energy, air pollution or cars — their approach is the same. They aim to restructure incentives in order to channel the animal drives of the marketplace in responsible directions.

Brooks does put forward two significant objections, but they're easily rebuffed. The first is that this "leadership class" might fail, to which the plain response would be, essentially, that the current system has failed and that the administration feels a moral obligation to try to right it. The second is that Obama's spending spree does not exemplify the responsibility and "hard choices" that he wishes to impose on others, ranging from passivity to Congress's worsening of his proposals to the attempt to do all things at once to his recent "cynical Potemkin cuts." But the simple answers to this are that America's problems are deep, requiring the large dollar amounts to stabilize, and that an administration can only work within its context and must cooperate with coequal government branches.

The way I see it, there are only two possibilities that join the president's Georgetown speech and his actions. His words could be cynical political rhetoric intended to obscure for citizens the differences between his approach and that of his opposition. That, after all, is how he got himself elected: by convincing everybody that he was going to govern the way that they wanted, even if each preference was incompatible with the other.

The other possibility is that Obama is sincere, in which case raising the specter of fascism is not unreasonable. The emergence of "planners" and (being human) their inevitable failure are milestones on the road to serfdom. Indeed, this leveraging of a market system for the government's use in serving the "public good" is the central theme of Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism.

To repeat my suggestion at the Providence tea party, if we aren't free to take risks, we aren't free. If the government can "swoop in" and save us, then our eyes will always look first to the dark shadow circling around us. Moreover, the rest of our society isn't free if it is obligated to pay for insuring others' risks, whether those others are businesspeople or public officials who, by corruption or incompetence, find themselves with failures to cover up and all the tools of government to apply toward that effort.

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We should start now to count the times that right wing writers and commentators use the words "fascist" and "fascism" when refering to Obama. The words "socialist" and socialism" apparently did'nt work the way it was hoped during and after the election. Justin and others here are simply National Review, Fox news, and other right wing outlets' repeatniks.

"The other possibility is that Obama is sincere, in which case raising the specter of fascism is not unreasonable."
Written by Justin Katz ...raising the spector of more tarring and feathering.

Posted by: Phil at April 22, 2009 8:22 AM

Are you talking about genuine and sincere speeches like this one?

Joe Biden

Where he said:
"No swimming pools. No tennis courts. No golf courses. No Frisbee parks."


"I can’t stop you from doing some things. But I’ll show up in your city and say, ‘This is a stupid idea,’”

Did I miss the VP's visit to Pawtucket already? Because we know that the current administration is going to be totally honest in their claims, unlike the former administration that the left was so upset every time they claimed that Bush/Cheney "lied". Did Biden lie?

Posted by: Patrick at April 22, 2009 10:18 AM

Fascism is a disease of the Right. If you want to find a Fascist look at Tancredo. He's on the opposite side of the aisle.

By the way Justin, still waiting for you to comment on Tancredo's ideas, you might want to let us know your feelings on (1)Podhoretz' assessment of Tancredo - just to remind you, he called Tancredo "an idiot". It would also be enlightening, in the broadest sense of the word, (2)to hear your thoughts on Tancredo's views about bombing Mecca, (3)multiculturalism, and Tancredo's statement that (4)Islam is a civilization bent on destroying ours. If you don't think that these ideas reveal a fascist you are not qualified to speak on the subject.

Regarding Obama and his policies, you bring to mind the Greek legend of Procrustes, who gave travellers a night's lodging by putting them into a bed, and either stretching them to fit it or lopping off their legs if they were too long. So you take Obama's policies and either stretch them out of shape or lop off their major components to fit your own ideology.

Still waiting for you to let us know what you think of Tancredo and his ideas. I hear your silence on the subject. Maybe you can get Little Sir Echo to scribble a few words- saved by a distressed damsel.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at April 22, 2009 1:33 PM

Political Science 101 lists some characteristics of Fascism:

1. Fascism advocates the creation of a single-party state. Obama has repeatedly called for bipartisanship.

2. Fascism believes that nations and races are in perpetual conflict whereby only the strong can survive by being healthy, vital, and by asserting themselves in combat against the weak. Obama's policies have been excoriated by the opposition party for such perceived outrages as "Leveling", and have labeled him a "Socialist".

3. Fascist governments forbid and suppress criticism and opposition to the government. Obama has appointed members of the opposing party to his cabinet.

Justin, How in hell is this fascism?
Come out, come out, wherever you are.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at April 22, 2009 2:04 PM

"His administration has become a domestic I.M.F., consisting of teams of experts who can swoop in and provide long-term solutions when systems — finance, housing, health care, education, autos — have broken down."

First of all, "systems have broken down" due to either bad regulations (i.e., the Community Redevelopment Act) or a lack of enforcement of existing regulations. The solution is to stop passing bad regulations and start enforcing existing ones.

The administration does not seem to be doing that, however, inasmuch as the principle "long term solution" they and Congress have proposed or implemented consists of taxing and massive deficit spending. It is hard to view this, then, as restructuring "incentives in order to channel the animal drives of the marketplace in responsible directions."

(I thought David Brooks was smarter than this.)

Posted by: Monique at April 22, 2009 2:32 PM

Patrick- Can we agree that it may be still a little too early to make judgements? Bush had a long time before the tide turned. People went quite a way with him before fuckup after fuckup finally convinced the American people that Bush and his right wing crew were not to be trusted. Now the job the right wing group has before it is to both defend the Bush legacy and attack the new administration. How's that going? Oh right! It's Fascism! Why don't we wait and see if the new administration lives up to its claims and then pass judgement. What we need now is some patience and some intellectual effort. The right wing could offer much needed advise.

Posted by: David at April 22, 2009 5:40 PM

Does anyone else see the hypocrisy in the partisan-ism of all this? I don't recall any 'tea parties' by conservatives when Bush and the Republicans spent all that money and expanded government programs (i.e.: Medicare Rx Bill) And if the administration passing the 'stimulus' would have been (R), the loyal (D) would be whining about tax cuts for the rich, all the spending on military in Afghanistan ("what did the Taliban ever do to us?").

On principle I agree with Justin. But I am a small-r-republican.

If the parties in power were reversed, I truly feel that the arguments would remain similar -- and only the names of the commenters would change.

My kingdom for a principled non-partisan viewpoint.

Posted by: msteven at April 22, 2009 8:28 PM

I don't think one can seriously treat as comparable Bush's activities and Obama's (current and pledged) when it comes to sheer scope as well as to free-market versus government emphasis.

That said, I'd note that conservatives did advocate against the TARP bailouts and would suggest that your cynicism goes to far in assuming that a Republican doing precisely the same things wouldn't be facing a great deal of ire from the right.

And that said, it would be a mistake to lose sight of the nature of a bipartisan political structure: Each side attempts to restrain the other, and as has tremendous applicability in the case of President Bush, the greater the vitriol from the opposition, the more difficult it is for copartisans to be critical because the risk of losing too much ground on other policies of importance goes up exponentially.

Posted by: Justin Katz at April 22, 2009 9:15 PM

There is a difference between in scope between Obama’s and Bush’s activities – but not to the extent of the criticism leveled by partisan pundits of each side. I did not mean to say that a partisan would be criticizing “precisely” what would be defended based on party affiliation. But I do believe that for example, in the case of the war, that is truly was in the interests of the Democratic party that things go badly in Iraq and also is in the best interest of Republicans if the economy gets worse. In both cases, the party affiliation of the President has little if nothing to do with the outcomes. As far as your last sentence, I understand what you mean and it is not that I lost sight of the how the political structure works. It is acknowledging the reality of how that structure affects honesty and hypocrisy in political discourse. I guess the difference may be that you are an insider or active in the process of this structure and I am an outsider to it.

Posted by: msteven at April 23, 2009 12:54 PM

OldTimeLefty and your other critics are good at memorizing and regurgitating liberal talking points and not too good at reading with comprehension when reading views with which they disagree.
First of all, why is it Justin's responsibility to defend Tom Tancredo? Does every liberal have a responsibility to explain everything every Democrat says? It is an amusing idea (OldTimeLefty, you get Maxine Waters!) but not very practical. In any event, Tancredo is more sensible than the Looney Tune fascisits who prevented him from speaking the other night.
So President Obama practices bipartisanship because, well, he says so. Well, if bipartisanship means inviting David Brooks to dinner parties, he's got it covered. Otherwise...
And he has a Republican or two in his Cabinet. Maybe he needed at least one or two Cabinet members who didn't cheat on their taxes, or have other ethical issues.
As for the observation that President Obama is not getting the same pass that President Bush got, my recollection is that President Bush got no pass at all because many people didn't (and don't) believe that his election was legal in the first place.
By the way, you'll know that "right-wing writers" have gone over the top when they catch up with a number of times that George Bush was and is called a fascist by "left wing writers".

The discussion that Justin wishes to pursue, I believe, is based on the observable fact that the Obama administration wishes to change the relationship between those who govern and those who are governed. Many of us are alarmed by this radical change. It is a perfectly legitimate discussion, and we are all trying to figure out how to define President Obama's political philosophy. It is imperfect to describe him as a socialist, despite his desire to redistribute the country's wealth. It is imperfect to describe him as a fascist, based on what we know, despite the clear effort to accumulate power in Washington and to put those who govern above the law. All this is being done with little or no transparency and with a speed which prevents debate.
By the way, Justin, I saw your speech at the Tea Party. Well done.

Posted by: Ralph Stokes at April 23, 2009 8:18 PM
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