Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Making (big) government work

Jonah Goldberg:

Obama's "Idiot" defense

But, suddenly, when the administration finds itself ensnared by errors of its own making, the curtain is drawn back on the cult of expertise and the fantasy of statist redemption. Early on in the IRS scandal, before the agency's initial lies were exposed, David Axelrod defended the administration on the grounds that the "government is so vast" the president "can't know" what's going on "underneath" him. Of course, it was Obama who once said, "I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors."

That is, when things are going relatively well. When scandal hits the fan, he goes from "the government is us" to talking of his own agencies the way a czar might dismiss an injustice in some Siberian backwater. The hubris of omnicompetence gives way to "lighten up, we're idiots."
This brings to mind a point David Gelernter makes in his book 1939: The Lost World of the Fair

The Right doesn't like to acknowledge that the power and authority of government can be a good thing, up to a point, in the hands of a genius. The Left doesn't like to acknowledge that geniuses are few and far between.
Gelernter offers us a picture of what ‘genius’ looks like in the person of New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia.

La Guardia the crusading and compassionate liberal was also in the habit, when he witnessed city workers great or small behaving incompetently, of firing them on the spot. (Sample story: He finds a group of park workers lounging during working hours. He fires sixty of them for "loitering.") The city is to be run tautly, seriously, and whining drives La Guardia the crusading liberal crazy. I pay no attention, he declares, to "political whiners." Merit is a sacred idea to La Guardia the compassionate liberal.
I suspect that La Guardia would not have found out about Lois Lerner’s campaign against conservatives by listening to MSNBC. Nor would he have stopped with routine expressions of outrage.

At a Lower East Side relief station, La Guardia dropped in unaccounted. He was enraged by lackadaisical bureaucrats he discovered. A supervisor wandered over to see what the fuss was, and mistook the visitor for another out-of-work troublemaker. The mayor knocked the hat off his head. 'Take off your hat when you speak to a citizen."
BTW, La Guardia fired his surly, lazy bureaucrat on the spot.

OTH, maybe the White House reacts as it does because its big government liberalism differs from La Guardia’s crusading, compassionate, and pragmatic liberalism.

James Pierson offers an interesting take on liberalism’s evolution over the last half century in Camelot and Cultural Revolution. He argues that FDR/La Guardia style liberalism has been replaced by “Punitive Liberalsm.”

In the years after Kennedy’s death, liberals recast their understanding of reform from an instrument of progress to an instrument of for punishment…. The idea developed that the nation deserved punishment and chastisement for its manifold failures to live up to its stated ideals. From this point of view, reform was called for as an instrument for corrections.


The new liberals now held that Americans had no good reason to feel pride in their country’s past or optimism about its future. The began to argue that the purpose of national policy was more to punish the nation for its sins than to build a brighter and more secure future for all.
For a punitive liberal, the IRS did exactly the right thing to exactly the right people.

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