American Elephants

The Liberal Faith In the Perfectibility of Politics by The Elephant's Child

Perhaps it all starts with a childish whine “It isn’t fair.” Some mothers respond that life isn’t fair, and set their offspring on the path of conservatism, and others ignore the whiny brat or give the kid a hug and a cookie (rewarding the child for the whine) and tell him yes, that’s really too bad and raise a little liberal.  That may be a bit fanciful, but what is clear is that a goodly portion of young people have grown up with the idea that America is not fair, and needs fixing.

Irving Kristol once wrote “In every society the overwhelming majority of people live lives of considerable frustration and if society is to endure, it needs to rely on a goodly measure of stoical resignation.”

Liberals have never been ones for stoical resignation. They want to fix things. Republicans are inclined to oppose Big Government, and ascribe most of our country’s problems to  Liberals’ fondness for Big Government. I think this is incorrect. Liberals want desperately to be in charge. They want to win. They want to defeat Conservatives utterly and so completely that they will never again be strong enough to annoy or compete. But Big Government or burgeoning bureaucracy is a result of their policies, not their initial aim.

I saved this quote from a 1999 Wall Street Journal editorial.

The error behind all these failures is the liberal faith in the perfectibility of politics. Liberals believe that the next law, or next federal agency, will somehow make up for imperfect human nature. But America’s founders understood that politics could never be perfected precisely because men weren’t perfect. So they designed a system with a minimum of bureaucratic and legal control in which disputes could be settled by political debate. They did not want to rely on lawyers or experts who could maneuver around or through a maze of campaign and ethics laws. It’s taken us twenty years of picking through the ruins of liberal reform to relearn how right they were.

The next law will make up for imperfect human nature. One of liberals’ most persistent desires is to eliminate poverty. They worry a lot about the gap between the rich and the poor. They have earnestly tried to fix that ever since Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” and his War on Poverty. We have spent $15 trillion of other people’s money and currently have more people on food stamps than ever before in the nation’s history. The EBT card is a combination of food stamps and cash benefits. The Tsarnave brothers apparently bought their bomb supplies with their EBT cards. We could give each person in poverty a yearly check for $69,000 and save money.

We need fixes for fat people, fixes for standard lightbulbs, fixes for cars not getting high enough mpg, or just using gasoline, fixes for home appliances, fixes for fat kids, fixes for unaffordable college, fixes (again) for infrastructure, fixes for bullies, fixes for transgendered people’s bathroom needs, fixes for women who don’t want to pay for their own contraceptives, fixes for people who try to capture rainwater, fixes for farm dust. So many, many annoyances.

The most evident case is, of course, the best health care system in the world. It must be fixed because government regulation is driving up the cost. (Never mind that the cost was declining). The British have  National Health Service, which is socialized medicine. Horrible system, but it’s “free” at the point of service, and people are afraid to lose it and apt to continually vote for Labour to keep it. Note the important phrase. So they kill off a lot of their older people with neglect and denied care, but it’s “free at the point of service.”

Lots of new regulations, so providers have to expand their bureaucracies. And on top of the expanded health care system, comes a vast federal bureaucracy to control, deny, regulate, manage and expand. Liberals look at this diagram of the needed new bureaucracy with thousands of  highly paid, unionized employees, and are absolutely convinced that President Obama’s promises about keeping your own doctor if you like him and keeping your own insurance and it will all cost less— “bend the cost curve down” was the phrase— are absolutely true and will come to fruition just as he says. It is and was an enormous lie.

So Democrats don’t go into a political campaign saying they want bigger government. Republicans accuse them of it, but it is obviously not true. We will get Big Government because that is the inevitable result of liberal faith in the perfectibility of politics. You have the perfect example before you this week in the machinations of the Internal Revenue Service. Mark Steyn recounts the travails of Frank VanderSloot, whose offense was that he decided to donate money to the Romney campaign. After audits of his return, his business return, and  a Department of Labor investigation of his cattle ranch , the government could find nothing on Mr. VanderSloot, but it has cost him $80,000 in legal fees to fend off the bureaucrats. A big bureaucracy thinks it’s fine to demand that an evangelical group report in writing what they pray about. Anybody have relatives running for office?

It has often been said that every Liberal has a tyrant inside, struggling to get out. They don’t like studies. They’re uninterested in consequences and baffled by the idea of incentives. They need to be in charge so they can fix the things that aren’t fair.


3 Comments so far
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To tell you the truth, I don’t even believe they want to “fix” things anymore. Look at all the Democrat proposals that have been shot down over the past few years… by Democrats. Obama can’t get people in his own Party to sponsor or vote on legislation that he wants anymore, even one of his budgets. And the “fixes” that they come up with do nothing to correct the problems they are intended to address.

No, I think that the Democrats, led by Obama, have fallen into the trap of simply wanting power for power’s sake – to win for the sake of winning. They have no coherent agenda, and everything they touch turns into a disaster. The current administration’s foreign policy has made us less respected on the world stage; our allies hold us at arm’s length because they cannot trust us, and our enemies ignore us because they have learned there will be no repercussions from this President. Our domestic policy is a shambles; everything the administration does harms the economy – any positive gains there have been in spite of Obama and his policies, not because of them. And now you have Federal agencies targeting private citizens and organizations for political reasons.

(you’re going to call me cynical again, aren’t you?)


Comment by Lon Mead

Certainly not. It’s really hard to understand what these leftists believe, but if we are to defeat them we have to try. I’m not one of those former liberals who has seen the light, and now understands where they previously went wrong. Although the wrong part seems to be mostly just that they didn’t think much about it, and just went along, assuming that the conventional wisdom was, of course, correct. I have a great grandfather who wrote somewhere around 1860 that “he was a quiet but interested member of the Republican Party.” Another branch left South Carolina in 1810, and made their church a station on the Underground Railway.

I agree that they just want power for its own sake. Obama has big ideas about changing America, but they are all bad ideas that are more the subject of socialist gab fests than serious proposals. Nevertheless, he has managed to put most of them into being — sort of — like ObamaCare, which is such a mess that it seems it must collapse of its own weight. His policies have mostly been the opposite of whatever Bush did. He’s still planning a speech this week to talk about closing Guantanamo.(Like Epstein said, his ideas are fixed in concrete.) But there really is no there there. Bush’s policies arose out of clear study of world realities, and the choices of policy (often less than optimal) to deal with reality. Obama’s just got ideas — terrorism exists because Bush wasn’t nice to the Arabs, and because we so ridiculously favored Israel. Obama would fix that with being the not-Bush. Guantanamo had to be closed because whoever was there was undoubtedly innocent, and the world hated America because we tortured prisoners there.Hundreds and thousands of people whose lives were ruined because they didn’t have health insurance or were mistreated by evil insurance companies. So by “fix” things, I mean they want to change them to suit their ideology, but the ‘fix’ won’t work.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

Certainly not. I don’t think we disagree. Their idea of “fix” doesn’t necessarily (and usually doesn’t) include improving anything. But they must tell themselves that they are helping the poor, offering wonderful new benefits, and so on. It is because they are so imbued with “do-goodism” that they expect to accomplish good things with their fixes. Does Mayor Bloomberg believe that he is making his city healthier because he has banned Big Gulps? They tell themselves that they are “fixing” things, but closely observed, it’s pretty obvious that their only real aim is power — or being in charge.

They HATED Bush and all his doings. Obama thought all he had to do was be the not-Bush, and he would be successful. Remember he was going to issue an instant executive order to free up Stem-cells. He had 20 people waiting in the wings who were going to walk again because Obama had ended Bush’s fundamentalist ban on stem cells. Wonder what happened to those folks? Of course embryonic stem-cell experimentation has shut down, too dangerous, and the amazing progress with adult stem-cells is seldom mentioned in the media.

Obama does not change his mind. He will be giving a major foreign policy speech on Thursday, I think, in which he will again demand to close Guantanamo. The left believes that everyone imprisoned there is innocent, and the world hates us for torturing people there. Because they assume that everything touched by the right — is bad and wrong, they are unaware of the careful studies, the concern for consequences, the concern for getting the incentives right. Or they reject it because it is Republican stuff. Bush didn’t worry much about being liked, but he expected respect. Obama doesn’t get that. His ideas are all old stuff that has been tried and has failed. This time it will be different, because he’s Obama.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

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