Thursday, July 2, 2009

He's Not a Socialist, He's a Pathetic, Needy Man

He's Not a Socialist, he's a pathetic, needy man with the reins of the greatest country ever invented in his inexperienced hands. President Obama is so predictable. Once he's taken power, he is a whirlwind of activity. Save Citibank; punish executives who get bonuses; reward the United Auto Workers union; announce you don't want to control General Motors while you seek to control General Motors; stiff the hundreds of retiree General Motors bond holders; stiff the Chrysler Corporation retiree secured-debt holders; get a "stimulus" package passed and borrow a trillion dollars to do so; give away Chrysler to a foreign auto manufacturer and, once again, reward the United Auto Workers; reward the Teamsters; propose a trillion-and-a- half-dollar "reform" -- actually takeover -- of the entire United States healthcare industry, arguably the largest industry in the world, after 100 days of thinking about it; spend a trillion dollars to "balance" the budget later on; change the emphasis of anti-trust to mirror that of Europe; take your First Lady to a Broadway show; dis Israel; suck up to Europe and the Middle East Muslims; boost the very unionism that sunk GM and Chrysler; bow to the Saudi king; print trillions of crisp electronic dollar bills and use them to "monetize" our debt by buying treasury securities; ambitiously attempt to overhaul the U. S. financial markets; ambitiously attempt to overhaul the U. S. healthcare market to mirror the failing European monopolies; ambitiously attempt to singlehandedly cool off the world (global warming that it) by restructuring through crippling and thoughtless regulations and onerous new taxes, all the while ignoring any scientist who disagrees witht he notion of man-made global warming; oh and it's just June 1.

Mr. President, you are so predictable. Are you afflicted with ADD? ADHD? Freneticity? Or are you simply an amateur, inexperienced person who confuses activity with achievement. You have been active, you have achieved nothing. And you say, "What we are not doing, what I have no interest in doing, is running GM." Huh? In the immortal words of Transgender Geraldine, "The Devil made me do it."

Good luck, sir. And welcome to the world of other romantic fools, David Buick, Ransom E. Olds, Louis Chevrolet, Robert and Louis Hupp, the Dodge brothers, the Studebaker brothers, the Packard brothers, the Duesenberg brothers, Charles W. Nash, E. L. Cord, John North Willys, Preston Tucker, William H. Murphy (of Cadillac fame, it originally designed by none other than Henry Ford); they join modern day failures like John DeLorean and Malcolm Bricklin.

While I posted this originally June 1, Peggy Noonan in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece mirrored my thoughts (June 27-28, 2009, page A 13: [] ). "To-Do List: A Sentence, Not 10 Paragraphs". Adding to hers, President Obama is a whirling dervel of activity, not understanding that activity is NOT accomplishement, of which he has little except spending to re-elect Democrats and calling it "stimulus". And it is clear that he listens to no one except his political advisors and drive to completely change America to become more "fair" -- as defined by neo-dictators.

The following is a post from July 1, 2009, which I am editing for brevity's sake. It is
Paul Rahe: Obama's tyrannical ambition []

We have invited political historian Paul Rahe to write something for us on the themes of his timely new book Soft Despotism, Democracy's Drift: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Tocqueville, and the Modern Prospect. Professor Rahe writes:

President Obama has one distinguishing feature. He is a man of rigid self-discipline. Politicians are a lot like actors: they tend to be vain; and, more often than the rest of us, they are presented with the temptations to which the vain are prone. Many--one thinks of Bill Clinton, John Edwards, John Ensign, and Mark Sanford--succumb. If, however, in his personal life as an adult, Barack Obama has strayed from the straight and narrow, we have heard nary a word.
It is, in fact, a sign of his astonishing self-discipline that we know next to nothing about his life apart from what he chose to impart in the two autobiographies he published. For a long time now, for longer than we can perhaps imagine, every move he has made has been carefully calculated, calibrated, and choreographed. In this regard, he is in the fullest sense what every politician aims to be: a self-made (one might even say a self-invented) man. It is easy to see why someone like Evan Thomas should think him a god.
Once in a while, however, when Obama gets separated from his teleprompter, the mask slips a tad. On the hustings, Joe the Plumber caught the candidate off guard and got him to admit the truth about his plans to effect a redistribution of wealth. Something of the sort happened again last week--when, at a carefully staged rally for the administration's health care proposal, to which the flacks who run ABC News tellingly invited no one who regards the current healthcare arrangement as even remotely satisfactory--President Obama responded to a question by acknowledging that his plan aimed to reduce medical costs by aligning "incentives" in such a fashion as to discourage the sick and the dying from undergoing "additional tests" or taking "additional drugs that the evidence shows is not necessarily going to improve care."
Obama's choice of words was, as always, soothing. But anyone familiar with the healthcare debate will immediately recognize what he left unsaid. We all know that, wherever there is socialized medicine, there is rationing. Cutting costs is, in fact, its rationale, and this end is achieved by a refusal on the part of the government to pay for care that the bureaucrats judge uneconomic. Already now, in the semi-socialized system to which we have been made subject, those consigned to HMOs come up against gatekeepers charged with shaving costs by restricting care.
Why, we might ask, should one have to wait months or even years for a hip-replacement operation? Why should one be denied a cataract operation if one is over a certain age? What business is it of Barack Obama's whether I choose to spend my own hard-earned money on procedures thought to have only a limited chance of success? What gives him--or, for that matter, anyone else--the right to make decisions that are for me a matter of life and death?
Defenders of Obama's proposal will reply that I am misrepresenting his proposal. No one, they will say, will be forced to give up the health insurance they have. Technically, of course, this is true. But what President Obama calls the "incentives" will be structured in such a way that employers will no longer have to offer coverage, and to save themselves the expense (which is considerable), they will seize the opportunity to opt out, and then we will have no choice.
Perhaps we will then be left free to spend as we see fit the money left to us after we have paid for the government-run insurance program. Perhaps we will be able to go into the private market and pay for a hip-replacement operation, a cataract operation, or for tests and procedures that our doctor recommends but that the government-run insurance program refuses to pay for.
Here is where Obama's "incentives" reappear. The government-run insurance program will, for all practical purposes, be a monopsony--the sole purchaser. It will be in a bargaining position enabling it to dictate the price that it will pay, and, of course, it will pay very little. You, as an individual purchaser, will have no leverage at all; and, like those not covered by employer-sponsored insurance plans today, you will have to pay through the nose. Unless you are filthy rich, you may well have to wait your turn for that hip-replacement operation, forego that cataract operation, or do without those expensive tests and procedures. In sum, you will not be in the driver's seat.
To grasp what is at stake, one must step back and consider what sort of thinking underpins the drive for what is called "health care reform." There was a time in the United States when we lived under a regime of individual rights, and as individuals we assumed responsibility for our own welfare. We worked; we saved; and we took pride in looking after ourselves. Many of us still think in this fashion, but this is not the manner in which our masters now think. We may be the heirs of the men who adopted the Declaration of Independence; those who rule us are the offspring of the Progressives, and men of this temper have dominated our political life for almost a century now.
Back in 1912, when Woodrow Wilson successfully ran for the presidency, he told his compatriots, "We are in the presence of a new organization of society." Our time marks "a new social stage, a new era of human relationships, a new stagesetting for the drama of life," and "the old political formulas do not fit the present problems: they read now like documents taken out of a forgotten age." What Thomas Jefferson once taught is now, he insisted, quite out of date. It is "what we used to think in the old-fashioned days when life was very simple." Above all else, he hoped to persuade his compatriots to get "beyond the Declaration of Independence." That document "did not mention the questions of our day," he told them. "It is of no consequence to us. It is an eminently practical document, meant for the use of practical men; not a thesis for philosophers, but a whip for tyrants; not a theory of government, but a program of action"--once of use, outdated now.
For Montesquieu--the only figure, apart from Jefferson, whom he mentioned by name--Wilson had no use, and the constitution drafted under the influence of the Frenchman's great compendium of political wisdom The Spirit of Laws--with its separation of powers, checks and balances, and distribution of authority between nation and state--he regarded as hopelessly passé. "Government," he argued:
is not a machine; but a living thing. It falls, not under the theory of the universe, but under the theory of organic life. It is accountable to Darwin, not to Newton. It is modified by its environment, necessitated by its tasks, shaped to its functions by the sheer pressure of life. No living things can have its organs offset against each other, as checks, and live. On the contrary, its life is dependent upon their quick co-operation, their ready response to the commands of instinct or intelligence, their amicable community of purpose. . . . There can be no successful government without the intimate, instinctive co-ordination of the organs of life and action. . . . Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and in practice. All that progressives ask or desire is permission--in an era when "development," "evolution," is the scientific word--to interpret the Constitution according to Darwinian principle.
What Wilson and his heirs have accomplished is a surreptitious substitution of Hegel for Locke and of the modern adminstrative state with its vast array of administrative agencies (each combining the legislative, executive, and judicial powers) for the regime of self-government imagined by Montesquieu and brought into being by the American Founding Fathers. What our masters aim at--whether they be Republicans, like Teddy Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Thomas E. Dewey, and Richard Nixon, or Democrats, such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and Barack Obama--is what FDR termed "rational administration"; and over the years, in pursuit of this, they have adopted Wilson's convenient notion that ours is a "living constitution" subject to reshaping by the courts, and they have been willing not only to abandon federalism, the separation of powers, and checks and balances, but to run roughshod over the rights of individuals.
When "scientific racism" was the rage, Woodrow Wilson segregated the civil service, gave "The Birth of a Nation" his imprimatur, and thereby promoted Jim Crow in the North. He campaigned on behalf of the sterilization of criminals and insane asylum inmates, and the progressive jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes conferred judicial sanction on this gross violation of individual rights. All of this was done in the name of the public good. The rights of individuals were made to give way to a utilitarian calculus.
Scientific racism is no longer in fashion, at least for the time being; and we have thankfully become chary of sterilizing those who reside in our mental hospitals and prisons. But we have no principle restraining us from succumbing to either propensity, for our masters are still inclined to sacrifice the rights of individuals to what elite opinion at any given moment understands as the public good. There is no other way to explain their embrace of affirmative action and of the redistributionist ethic.
"To take from one," Thomas Jefferson wrote, "because it is thought that his own industry and that of his father's has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association--'the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.'" It was on this foundation that Abraham Lincoln objected to slavery, and it is on this foundation that one can object to the health care reform proposed by our President. For this proposal is designed to take from those who have earned and to give to those who have not bothered to do so; and, by way of constraining "incentives," it will take from us the right to manage our own lives in a matter most dear to each and every one of us, and it will confer this responsibility on experts empowered to decide whether, given the cost of care, it is of greater value to society that we suffer or are cured, that we live or die.
It is easy enough to see why progressive doctrine should be attractive to our masters. Tyrannical ambition is nothing new, and throughout human history it has nearly always presented itself to men in the guise of idealism. We are all inclined to meddle in other people's business; we are all inclined to think that we know better; and higher education tends to inflate our vanity and to make us more inclined to lord it over those who are less well-instructed. Never for a moment does a Barack Obama stop to ask whether depriving us of responsibility for our own well-being is demeaning. He and his supporters know that they know better, and their putative wisdom in this regard constitutes for them an absolute claim to rule. The logic unfolding within the progressive impulse requires that there be a class of Guardians empowered to supervise our lives in every particular, and to an ever-increasing degree this is the reality with which we live.
It is less easy to see why ordinary citizens should find the administrative state and the progressive doctrine underpinning it attractive. It is less easy to understand why they should regard what Alexis de Tocqueville, in Democracy in America, called "soft despotism" as alluring. To explain why the tyrannized should savor tyranny will require, I fear, another post.
Professor Rahe holds the Charles O. Lee and Louise K. Lee Chair in the Western Heritage at Hillsdale College. Some of the material in this post is adapted from Soft Despotism, which was released on April 16, the 150th anniversary of Tocqueville's death. Professor Rahe's book has been the subject of witty and learned reviews by Mark Steyn in The New Criterion, by William Voegeli in National Review, and by Harvey C. Mansfield in The Weekly Standard.

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