It’s too bad that Oprah decided to give up her enormously popular day time television show. Professor Mead would be the perfect guest. I am sure Oprah’s audience (who Mead clearly reveres as the salt of the American earth) would be enthalled to hear Professor Mead explain how all of the conflict between Democrats and Republicans and liberals and conservatives is really just a recapitulation of high school battles between geeks and jocks.
I have a sneaking suspicion that Professor Mead is feeling guilty for scoring well on his SATs. How else can he explain why he is proposing a theory so vacuous that only one of those ignorant high school jocks that he claims are fed up with democrats could fall for?
While there are other factors at play, the core of the progressive’s problem lies in the fact that they’ve built a system that can never meet the needs they wish to address.
You can’t re-build a mass transit system if you fund a mass transit bureaucracy.
You can’t fund a child’s education if you are funding a massive administrative and union patronage program.
You can’t fund anything if you are forced to pay for end of career salary bumps that spike pensions for an ever growing class of early retirees (most of whom get free health care).
The progressives have to toss they public employment model (and yes, administration is just as awful as the unions) off the bus if they are going meet their professed societal goals.
Many are already seeing the light. The “Parent Trigger,” a unique law that empowers parents to flip a bad public school, was brought into being by progressive Californians who saw that the education bureaucracy had absolutely no interest in education.
Next up for the progressives is their need to recognize that programs designed in the 1930s and 1960s can’t function in this new environment.
The structure of their programs has to change, or their programs will fail.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but it appears that Dems like Cuomo and Emanuel are taking their medicine. The sooner they do this, the sooner they can start to retake the middle ground that no one seems to want to occupy.
So, where does this leave those of us who excelled academically, lettered in sports, and got laid in a robust, diverse, and mutually desired sort of way in high school?
Are we part of what could be an emerging, yet hitherto untapped, vanguard, or forever resigned to be doubly despised by the losers at either end of what should be life’s fundamental joys?
@ Random: clearly your taxes need to be raised.
Bruno, the trouble is that government agencies have no self-corrective mechanism. The private sector does; it’s called going broke, which is what businesses that don’t satisfy their customers do on a regular basis. But agencies can only be corrected through cumbersome legislation, and so suffer the same need for an ‘immaculate conception’ as campaign finance reform.
“One way of encapsulating the aims of people drawn to figures like Sarah Palin is to say that these are people who want adult America to look more like high school, with intellect less highly regarded and rewarded, and people smarts and character counting for more. There might have been a time when the regular kids were in awe of the special knowledge of the brainiacs, but the serial policy failures of recent years have dramatically eroded the prestige of the smart kids.”
Your essay really resonated with me up until about that paragraph. And I’m sure there are not a few Sarah Palin-defending writers out there – they may or may not also be ex-admirers like me – who THINK they want an adult America where “people smarts and character” count for more than mere intellect. At least in the upper echelons of politics. But, assuming I understand these writers correctly, they seem not to find anywhere near as urgent a need for those qualities in the upper echelons of business. No, if anything quite the opposite. And yet again these same folks, in a very oblique way – again, assuming I’m reading them correctly – appear to believe that this same raw and (if you will) morally unbridled intelligence is all that’s needed to ensure the proper governance of this country. Not its DIRECT governance, of course: raw intelligence is an aptitude they neither seek nor expect to find in any political leader. But it SEEMS to be about all that certain Palin-defenders require of the puppeteers behind our political leaders. And so I keep getting the impression that, with them, we’re more or less right back where we started. It’s as if we were very genteelly admitting “people smarts and character” in at the front door, only to toss them most unceremoniously out the back.
Now I can imagine someone replying: “But OF COURSE we need brainiacs in business, you dolt!” Yes indeed: but really, NOTHING other than brains? My impression is that we’ve been rather narrowly and complacently following that dogma – at least IN PRACTICE – for quite some time now. And yet, for all our de facto worship of Pure Business Intelligence abstracted from any sense of people skills, moral character or even humility, we somehow continue to produce amazing results like the following, as described in a recent edition of the Economist (http://www.economist.com/node/21524822):
“Some of the worst business disasters of recent years have been caused or aggravated by outsourcing. Eight years ago Boeing, America’s biggest aeroplane-maker, decided to follow the example of car firms and hire contractors to do most of the grunt work on its new 787 Dreamliner. The result was a nightmare. Some of the parts did not fit together. Some of the dozens of sub-contractors failed to deliver their components on time, despite having sub-contracted their work to sub-sub-contractors. Boeing had to take over some of the sub-contractors to prevent them from collapsing. If the Dreamliner starts rolling off the production line towards the end of this year, as Boeing promises, it will be billions over budget and three years behind schedule.
“Outsourcing can go wrong in a colourful variety of ways. Sometimes companies squeeze their contractors so hard that they are forced to cut corners. (This is a big problem in the car industry, where a handful of global firms can bully the 80,000 parts-makers.) Sometimes vendors overpromise in order to win a contract and then fail to deliver. Sometimes both parties write sloppy contracts. And some companies undermine their overall strategies with injudicious outsourcing. Service companies, for example, contract out customer complaints to foreign call centres and then wonder why their customers hate them.”
Finally, I agree that “. . . it’s impossible to grasp the crisis of the progressive enterprise unless one grasps the degree to which voters resent the condescension and arrogance of know-it-all progressive intellectuals and administrators.” At the same time, it might be interesting to know how many employees at every level – not to mention customers – resent the condescension and arrogance of know-it-all management experts and high-handed business administrators.
“Progressives scare off many voters most precisely when they are least restrained by special interests. Many voters feel that special interests can be a healthy restraint on the idealism and will to power of the upper middle class.”
Meanwhile, there remains something that I believe George Orwell used to call Basic Human Decency – under which he included a detestation of bullying, lying, cheating, intellectual arrogance, underhandedness and every kind of foul play. But if we lose THAT in our public life – whether political or economic – then what we got left? What then do you suppose is going to act as a healthy restraint on the idealism and will to power, not just of our often clueless political classes, but of our much wiser and shrewder corporate (and other) special interests?
1. Progressives need to declare victory and go home.
The movement arose when there was no minimum standard of decency governing how people could be treated in their living conditions and in the workplace. That minimum standard was long ago met, and the minimum continued to be raised for decades.
But Progressives believe government is a machine that can be ever better engineered and more delicately calibrated to create, ultimately, near-perfect citizens. It can’t.
Instead, their machine has simply grown bigger and more complex and with more and more working parts. When those parts malfunction, or half-work, or even cease to work, today’s Progressives insist that the machine only needs more parts. Ever more parts. Instead of becoming more effective, the machine becomes less.
2. The size and complexity of the machine enables laws to be written to benefit the few at the cost of the many. “Green” energy subsidies and mandates are but one example. Besides enriching GE and Al Gore’s other buddies, their main effect is raise the cost of fuel and electricity for the average Joe and Jane.
Another is protectionism for domestic sugar producers. This raises costs for Americans AND bars income to poor nations which could export it cheaply.
3. Government is a blunt instrument. Create a program with X rules to define who should benefit and money to fund it. Those rules are not malleable to fit a particular person’s specific and idiosyncratic needs. (Only the fortunate have never learned this firsthand.)
But swindlers can figure out how to appear to conform to those X rules and siphon off the benefits. And they do. Taxpayers’ money is worse than wasted. It approaches scientific certainty: create a huge pot of government money and the unscrupulous will go to work.
Anyone who has dealt with or observed them knows these programs’ failures. There’s no worse way to disillusion people than to promise something and then deliver it badly or not at all.
4. Two more truisms: For a bureaucrat anywhere – government, business, nonprofit – to forego money or power *voluntarily* is an unnatural act. Not least because the capacity of people to rationalize that what’s in their best interests is in everyone’s best interests is infinite.
Along with the “pot of money” rule, these three factors have enabled the promise-happy, spendthrift Congress and the big federal government machine. Too bad we can’t mandate humility.
5. You can bar people from doing certain things, but can’t make them do anything (except taxes). Houston is a multicultural haven not because of government regulations and mandates but because it grew up that way organically.
6. We still read and take meaning from the Bible, the Iliad and Shakespeare because they capture and portray humanity in all its glory and all its knavery. Homo sapiens will never be perfected. Some will arise from lowly beginnings, and some will willfully decline from the heights. So it ever was, and so it shall ever be.
7. If you’ve reached this point, thanks for bearing with me. I’ve thought about this stuff all my adult life.
Another problem with progressives is when they buy into viewpoint that may not (or possibly may) reflect reality. Keynesian economics, over regulation, and AGW come to mind. The progressive elite may rush head on over a cliff. I, for one, want to at least slow them down. As Reagan said “Government can’t solve the problem. Government is the problem.”
When progressivism dies, America should drive a wooden stake through it’s heart. The horror movie theme comes from Maureen Dowd’s characterization of the Tea Party.
Let me try that again:
We’ve had nine transformational presidents. They are Thomas Jefferson, James Polk, Abraham Lincoln, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, FDR and LBJ.
With the exception of Polk and TR, they’re all over 50 when they became president. With the exception of Lincoln, they all entered office with prior leadership experience.
So the odds were stacked against President Obama becoming a transformational president.
That doesn’t mean in can’t happen in a second term or even in the remainder of a first term. But it’s unlikely.
Too many big institutions have failed Americans. Big companies lay off people, big government spends money it doesn’t have and churches have failed people, too.
Why should anyone believe that a big institution is going to help them?
The future of this country will be Libertarian–if it lasts long enough. And it wpn’t necessarily be the Libertarian party of today. Rather, it will be the ideals upon which this nation was founded of limited government and maximum freedom. Once the political clashes of conservative and progressive have been played out and we go “over the cliff” enough times, people will figure it out. I agree with Dan Griswold (above), Reagan had it right for the most part that government IS the problem.
Hmmmm, it seems that the insulating properties of government make it the last to be affected by cultural trends. Perhaps this new populism is the effect of the disintermediazation (is that a word?) that’s affected every other area of business and personal life.
Good analysis, Mr. Mead.
“But it’s impossible to grasp the crisis of the progressive enterprise unless one grasps the degree to which voters resent the condescension and arrogance of know-it-all progressive intellectuals and administrators.”
Yes, and this arrogrance has played itself out in things like political correctness being forstered on the country, the push for homosexual marriage, abortion, racial quotas (affirmative action), God being expelled from the schools, do-gooding wars launched with no intent of winning, etc.
All these initiatives and more are the handiwork of our secularized elite, and they are all despised by the middle class.
The progressive (liberal) crack-up is also the result of the new media — talk radio, the Internet. Prior to the rise of the new media, the elite had a near monoploy on the public discourse. No more. (If the new media existed in the 1960s, Walter Concrite could never have gotten away with spinning the Tet Offensive as a defeat for the U.S. military.)
And why is one of the the mantras of the Tea Party a call for a return to the Constitution?
Because, the U.S. Constitution, when properly read, puts a limit on government power which is to say a limit on the power of the progressives and the elite.
As always, an insightful essay. What is missing for me, as has been missing in almost all of the discussion I have seen over the debt ceiling and related fiscal issues is a discussion about the proper (and limited) scope and role of government (especially the federal government) in American life. If ever there was a time for a meaningful discussion of first principles, this is it. It’s necessary, but not sufficient, to explain why we cannot afford the modern welfare state in its present form, and how that welfare state tends to serve the interests of the bureaucrats and “professionals” as opposed to the intended beneficiaries. We have to have a meaningful discussion about what the government should be charged with doing, as contrasted with what individuals and families should be responsible for. A related discussion is the pros and cons of a safety net run by government as opposed to charities operated by private groups.
This could be more simply stated.
Government power corrupts the government. Power corrupts the governors.
The governors do not realize this.
The governed do.
Politics is the study of power.
Bruno has hit on the rub. I government this size CAN’T work. I think there is some level of funding that you can see results from federal spending, after that you run into steeply diminishing returns. We blew by that level in most of the departments at least 10, and probably 20 or more years ago.
Republicans dont want to do the dirty work of sorting through these gargantuan budgets to find out if anything is actually effective. Democrats have convinced themselves that it doesn’t matter, spending is good even if you’re paying people to dig holes in the ground and fill them in. Voters don’t want to think about it at all. So we have a political impasse.
I’ve had a thought lately, and I don’t know if it can work, but it revolves around crowd sourcing. If many groups of interested citizens can go in and pick hyperspecific areas of the government to audit, at least we could get a sense of how badly off we are. At the moment we can’t even get our arms around it. We have too much data and essentially zero analysis. If whole websites and communities can go in dig and battle it out over exactly what is going on in the bowels of the Transportation Department (etc), politicians will eventually HAVE to take note and start making real decisions. True- its not the most direct form of democracy, but a small subset of citizens evolved by merit sure beats a handful of technocrats appointed by politicians.
Professor, I think you went way to easy on Greenberg. Like you, I felt the key paragraph in the essay began, “The Democrats have to start detoxifying politics by proposing to severely limit or bar individual and corporate campaign contributions, which would mean a fight with the Supreme Court.”
Unlike you, however, I did not take this to be even remotely a good thing, because it reveals a mind averse to the Constitution, and by extenison, the country itself.
After all, simply stopping–“limiting”–contributions won’t accomplish anything once these “groups and individuals” start doing their own campaign advertising, so that too will have to be banned or “limited.” Instead, we’ll rely on the government to fund candidates and a few giant media corporations to inform us of who we should vote for.
As you went on to say, the only way to get legislation giving the government control of the people–excuse me, giving progressives control of the government–is for progressives to already control the government.
In other words, in any honest democracy, progressives cannot control the government, hence, for the good of the country, the democracy has got to go.
There’s one significant element missing from your analysis, Prof Mead. The failures the Progressives perpetuated during the latter half of the 20th century, the social carnage of the ’60’s and ’70’s. While Progressives are quick to take credit (rightly) for the social improvements with regards to civil rights for African Americans and women, they never accept responsibility for the devastation those policy wrought. 40% of pregnancies in NYC end in abortion. The number is higher among AA – the devastation that is the AA family.
Our “expert” class has always been less than competent, partiallyly because of it’s misplaced confidence in its own abilities.
Great and thought-provoking article, as usual. Thanks.
But I think started to go decidedly off-track starting with this sentence:
“The fight for limited government that animates so many Americans today isn’t a reaction against the abuses and failures of government.”
The jock versus nerds analogy must have been intoxicating, but I think it’s not especially helpful. Remember that the vast majority of really, really smart people in America did not go to the ivy league schools. That may mean they don’t get to be intellectual trendsetters, but it does not mean that they’re dumb jocks or anything like that. A rebellion against our Progressive Ruling Class’ political correct policy coercion is not a rebellion against intellect, reason, science, justice, etc. — though one might be literally tempted to think it is if (and only if?) one is a sufficiently intellectually inbred Progressive.
this is a wonderfully perceptive and astute essay/critique….my one regret is that no homage is paid or acknowledgement given to nobel laureate james buchanan for his superb work in ‘public choice’ economics – a framework that helps explain many of the pathologies and dysfunctions discussed above…http://www.jstor.org/pss/1942785
People out tuning out the democrats and the liberals for a very simple reason: virtually everywhere you look around the world, the liberal form of government is collapsing before our very eyes.
You can see this most plainly in Europe, where major countries are literally on the brink of total economic and governmental collapse and a result of their unwise profligate ways.
Why, Greenberg asks, do so many voters tune the Democrats out?
(1) What the Democrats really ask is why the ignorant, gun-hugging, church-clinging, racist, terrorist-minded voters do not vote for them? and
(2) The people know that is how Democrats view them.
The problem with the progressive movement was well articulated by Hayek almost seventy years ago. It’s the problem with the belief in planning. Paraphrasing:
Even if we can all agree that there should be some well thought out plan to address some problem – childhood obesity – when the details of that plan need to be articulated, there is no possible plan that can meet the needs of every single person. At which point, someone’s interests arbitrarily take precedence over someone else’s interests.
There is no expert, no committee, no agency that can possibly no what is best for every citizen; yet that doesn’t stop the progressives from claiming that they do: that they know better what we want in our lives.
Progressives also suffer from an inability to address problems subtlety. Sure, the health care system needed reform. But instead of tweaking the system, they had to go for a fundamental transformation of the system. It’s the policy equivalent of giving a blood transfusion to try and fix a case of bad acne.
The progressive ideologue never believes the problem is that his plans are misguided or won’t work. The problem is the ignorant electorate, the democratic process itself, the need for more planning. In 1930’s England socialists were decrying Parliament’s inability to legislatively tackle the myriad of highly technical problems facing the state and were advocating increased delegation to bureaucratic technical experts. Sound familiar?
Life is messy. We can’t save everyone from themselves. Equality of outcome is a perverse fantasy that has and will never happen. That won’t stop those that think they no better from continuing to try though.
I leave you with a bit of wisdom from Adam Smith:
“The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals, would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted to no council and senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it.”
“[A] crisis of government legitimacy is a crisis of liberalism.”
No, it is a crisis of statism, and therefore it is a crisis of progressivism, but liberalism (of the original and true variety) is not threatened by a weakened central authority. Real liberalism is ENHANCED in the absence of strong central authority.
Liberalism arose precisely to the extent that the ancient regimes waned. It was the flourishing of liberty that was only possible as the former powers were reduced.
Part of Greenberg’s, and his ilks, problem is their inability to properly self identify. Liberty wilts under any form of growing central authority. Therefore they are either unlearned in the basic tenets of liberalism, or are unwilling to acknowledge that their ‘version’ requires that core liberty be sacrificed in order to assure the primacy of the state.
“It’s perplexing. When unemployment is high, and the rich are getting richer, you would think that voters of average means would flock to progressives, who are supposed to have their interests in mind — and who historically have delivered for them.”
Isn’t it apparent that these progressives are the richest of the lot and that they all go out of the way to pay their ‘FAIR SHARE” Just check out the recent saga of Secretary Geithner, Congressman Rangel and others. Just review the recent saga of Sen. John Kerry D. Massachusetts and his attempt to avoid the taxes on his yacht to his own constituents. The people are waking up to these phonies.
All government- democratic republic, socialist people’s “republic”, dictatorship, theocracy- ALL government is inefficient, wasteful, and prone to corruption. This is because of human nature, which will never change. We have government not because it’s good, but because the alternative is worse. Since it is a necessary evil, the Founders designed a strictly limited government.
Both Greenberg and the professor seem to overlook this point: there is no way to “get the money out of politics”; it will always find a way in. But you CAN limit it, and the resultant damage, by limiting government. Simply put, if our government stayed within its Constitutional limits, it wouldn’t be worthwhile to bribe Congressmen.
Progressives, seeking ever larger government by “just the right people”, don’t understand that there ISN’T anyone good enough, wise enough, honest enough, and competent enough to have the kind of power over us which they wish to exercise. So they grow government, which inevitably means that they grow wastefulness, inefficiency, and corruption. The Little People are seeing that.
“If we had some eggs we could have some ham and eggs if we had some ham.” There it is. Been that way since 1965.
Can we perfect the nature of man? Progressives think so. Conservatives (through lessons dating back to the Bible) believe that man is inherently flawed and will act in his self interest. The different ideologies are thus easily summarized.
You wonder why “the jocks and cheerleaders on Fox News so consistently outdraw the nerds on CNN — to say nothing of PBS.”
But, tellingly, you do to NOT consider why the jocks and cheerleaders of MSNBC perform so poorly against Fox. Surely you can see that people like Chris Matthews and Contessa Brewer are nothing more than an aging jock, and a pretty faced, but otherwise hollow-headed cheerleader?
The fundamental flaw with Progressivism is its reliance upon coercion.
Coercion in the name of the common good, when the mandarins espousing it are able to craft a credible argument for same, can be tolerated. That world no longer exists — the “jocks,” to exploit the rather inapt metaphor, are every bit as sophisticated as the nerds, even if their interests differ.
And yet Progressivism *can* survive. IF its adherents are willing to formulate a Progressivism 2.0 which relies upon something other than political and legal coercion, and operates upon a significantly more voluntary model.
Your insight into the problem is interesting, even if I cannot support it as the key to the problem of why people are no longer seeing the government as a positive force in their lives. I do think that money-interests are in control of the government. My problem is how to put some controls on the money-interests. I agree that there is no hope for the SC to ever agree to the constitutionality of of public financing of elections. What I fear is the answer is further deterioration of the public perception of government to the point where some form a revolution occurs, the most peaceful of which would be the election of a Third Party.
You have to start with the smug moral superiority of Greenburgs position. How about a moment of complete honesty, that we have spent $3 Trillion on poverty and have more poor today, that we have regulated all of our jobs to China. Why not have a Russia Moment of 1989. We lied about everything to stay in power, we just mouthed words that we will helping the little guy. Then go HOME!
“What then do you suppose is going to act as a healthy restraint on the idealism and will to power, not just of our often clueless political classes, but of our much wiser and shrewder corporate (and other) special interests?”
Limited government. If government is recognized as not having the power to tell you to eat your peas, then neither the pea sellers nor the pea pushers will be attracted to it.
As for the “high school social hierarchy”, Walter gets it precisely backwards. It’s the same hierarchy — but the slice is of the student government and the “activist” students, not that of the jocks and nerds. We’re being governed by people selected largely on their ability to score well on standardized tests and their drive to boss others around.
After stating my assessment of Barney Frank’s intelligence, I’ve had people shoot back that he has an Ivy League degree. Which means their sole assessment of his intelligence is based on how he scored on a test when he was 18, and on his parents’ ability to afford an over-priced social club. Shouldn’t we instead be judging him based on his actions in the 40+ years since? His lying, his blatant corruption?
So basically, all we have to do is suppress speech from “special interests” (read, anybody who isn’t progressive), and give the insulated government bureaucratic machinery even more money and power to govern us “correctly”
How about this as a contribution from Wisconsin – where some brainiacs have reformed others? Not only are there two types – brainiac progressives and normal nerds but also the brainiacs have moved toward using regulations as well as law as a means of achieving their goals. In Wisconsin Scott Walker’s reforms included removing a great many state regulations on how schools ran such as saying that the student must be on the school campus for a certain number of hours a day and a great many union regulations which were results of collective bargaining such as saying that a teacher would only teach a certain number of hours a day. A student can now learn off-campus, ie online; a teacher can teach one more period. The result is a flexibility which allows Wisconsin school budgets to stay in balance without tax increases or teacher layoffs. In Milwaukee the school board accepted the whole past system of regulation and as a result laid off 350 teachers.
So in this case it was the refusal of the brainiacs to acknowledge and question the sacred and largely unknown (to the public) system of regulations which they had built up which was causing the deficits and tax increases.
Isn’t it possible that this is true elsewhere?
“The fight for limited government that animates so many Americans today isn’t a reaction against the abuses and failures of government. It is a fight to break the power of a credentialed elite that believe themselves entitled by talent and hard work to a greater say in the nation’s affairs than people who scored lower on standardized tests and studied business administration in cheap colleges rather than political science in expensive ones.”
Precisely, Professor! Great summation.
The great unwashed masses are rebelling against the elite.
Mr. Obama is the perfect foil. He’s an affirmative action beneficiary. He’s arrogant. He’s credentialed but has very little real world experience.
The latest Washington dust-up over the Debt Ceiling exposed his shortcomings (again). The president reminds me of a famous movie character …
“I am the great and powerful Oz. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.” Memorable lines from L. Frank Baum describing Barack Obama, I mean the Wizard of Oz.
There are parallels. When House Leader Eric Cantor asked for a written copy of the president’s debt ceiling plan, Obama exploded and cancelled the meeting. “Do not arouse the wrath of the great and powerful Oz. I said come back tomorrow,” the wizard thundered.
When they returned and found the president lacking in detail and understanding, the leaders of the House and Senate decided to bypass the man behind the TelePrompter. Or as the Wizard himself explained when his hot-air balloon took off, leaving impressionable little Dorothy on the ground, crying for him to come back: “I can’t come back, I don’t know how it works! Good-bye, folks!” the wizard admitted.
Methinks that if we want to reclaim our Shining Emerald City on a Hill, we need to replace the Munchkin in the Oval Office.
And their little dogs in the agencies and bureaucracies, too!
It might have helped the “transformational President” if those “elite, loving & all intelligent” progressives had not elected a toady of the Chicago Political machine who got where he was because did what he was told by his political bosses.
Obama is the very epitome of everything wrong with the modern Leftcommunistsocialistprogressives. How so we whitewash that Barry was ousted with the Annanberg Challenge when it was shuttered because it had taken upwards of 195 million dollars of grants meant to computerize the underprivileged children in Chicago and instead passed it out to all of Obama’s now neighbors in Hyde Park and their progressive groups. They shuttered the doors because none of the money made it to any of the classrooms and little Barry’s group could not even account for where most of the money had actually gone? Sound familiar, it was nothing but a small “stimilus” boondoogle writ large. Get in power, take a load of money and shift it out to all the players, and Barry has always been a good toady for that.
As for Barry, well he was promoted because like the position itself he was a good yes man toady whom the machine knew would just follow along for a little of his share of goodies.
The demise of “progressivism” is that these nerds are and always have been the people who are so stupid that they lack the self-awareness to know that they are ignorant. They are the fools seen banging drums in front of student unions.
Nicely done. As with any analysis of a complex phenomenon, it simplifies and, in the doing, distorts. But, also in the doing, it highlights a key factor driving today’s political discourse. Ronnie said it more concisely, with his “government is not the solution, government is the problem” meme. That was a distorting simplification, too, but also got at a key factor (pretty much the same one this piece is discussing) in a sharp way.
As ever, an interesting article. I am intrigued, however, at how you seem to be unable to accept that “the fight for limited government that animates so many Americans today” is, in fact, “a reaction against the abuses and failures of government” as well as “a fight to break the power of a credentialed elite.
There are numerous examples of these failures; the recent debt ceiling “discussions” revealed yet another. And true to form, the discussion became far more heated than necessary because of the reaction of the elites; they would not deign to discuss but simply hurled invective and ad hominem.
Fine. We the so-called terrorists of the Tea Party got the message. If you don’t want to work with us, we’ll work against you.
I disagree that the Progressives are the nerds. The nerds are off in Silicon Valley making things useful and that advance the conditions of mankind. The do often, upon success, seek membership with the Progressives.
The professionals and administrators are the brown-nosing student counsel members, the ones who spent their Friday nights studying for an A rather than playing with their Ham radio. The ones who longed to impose rules and order even as they worshiped the student handbook and reported those who didn’t follow page 5, paragraph 6.
When I was assigned to DC, I found the whole region seemed to be inhabited by the best and brightest over-achieving, student counsel, tattle-telling of all the high schools across the nation.
Stanley Greenberg told a gathering in Torrington, Ct. some years back that he wouild not work for a Republicans. (I am in the audience.)
Perhaps, while the media offers no comment other than mentioning the events, from time to time, notice of $35,800 per person presidential fundraisers gives those of us outside the politiical sandbox pause and, ujpon some reflection, the realization that the porpuse of government programs is to enrich the neo-aristocrats among us. I am guided, in this conclusion, by the observation at the opening of Federalist No. 57, that we have among us — this was in 1788, but the virus remains — persons who seek the “ambitious sacrifice of the many, to the aggrandizement of the few.”
Federalist 10 mentions in a few words, the likelihood that powerfulk people will apply property taxes for unjust purpose. I mkention this because such application was made by The Giuliani City Hall, backed by HUD, against apartment buidlings constructed by my family in the 1960’s. As a result, I now live on Social SDecurity, the help of a good friend, and food stamps. I mention food stamps because this, I sense, is one of those social programs that, on the surface, intended to offer some social justice, bring big bucks to the neo-aristocrats — specially now with food prices soaring to the accompaniment of silence by the left — you know, the folks who are supposed to be in the social justice forefront, but thus far have not been heard to demand affordable food.
Stanley Greenberg might look around him and notice the faces of the prominent progressives” of the day. Not a food stamper among them — ah, but millionairess and billionaires, neo-aristocrats all, you betcha.
Mr. Greenberg — think Lincoln — you “progressives” cannot fool ALL of us All of the time.
Next June I mark my 50th college reunion. (Today, no way would I have been able to afford college.) I mention this, however, because I have been comparing the present with 1962, in terms of prices. Mr. Greenberg: a visit to the doctor in 1962 cost $5.
This Tea Party person before there was a Tea Party rests his case.
*sigh*. The Jocks Verses Nerds Analogy is so very trite and missing the mark. It’s more of Those that have real world experience vs those who have a very small and very narrow experience that really should not be let anywhere near the levers of anything important.
There is a reason that the term “only academic” came into being as while Academic Theory has many uses in coming up with new ideas, that can be tested in the Real World for effectiveness, it has the distressing habit of conflating it’s theories into being as Valid as real World Experience. Which is patently false.
And because they have ‘superior’ education, these well meaning, but otherwise, inept people, cannot see themselves at fault
I like your point Eurydice, although I think the word is disintermediation. But the I think a number of Mr Meads points are even more illuminating. As an Englishman who lived in the US for seven years, I’d say it is time that the latter got some real democracy going. Congress and the higher reaches of the bureaucracies are peopled by an aristocracy which knows nothing of, and cares nothing for the thoughts of, ordinary Americans. I’m thinking of the Gores, the Kerrys, the Byrds and many other families born to govern. For this permanent ruling class, people like Sarah Palin seem like the end of the world. And they just might destroy that cloistered little world if enough Sarah Palins get elected.
Thanks for another thoughtful essay, Professor Mead. One thing however that might strengthen the argument is to emphasize that the Dems have never really come to grips with the fact that LBJ’s CRA and CRVA encouraged the political engagement of blacks and whites.
LBJ got the sh**-kickers and the crackers, as well as the black electorate, even if when you look at the interaction between the two classes I think the Dems would want to hit the ‘reset’ button.
The quality of our political class is terrible. Does anyone respect Biden or that Geitner creature? Is there a reason to do so? Joe the plumber reads that Summers lost the Harvard endowment billions, scooted over to President Obama’s economic team and wasted trillions, and he now reads that Summers is back at his Harvard sinecure teaching the sprats of our great and good how to succeed in business. The life of our political classes has no correlation to reality or even success. Like enarques, they just float from cushy job to cushy job in this odd confluence of media, academe and politcs.
People will always resent a cultural elite much more than an economic one for the simple reason that they want to join the second, but couldn’t care less about the first.
Also, government will always be corrupted by special interests even if (God forbid!) there are no elections. Was the Soviet Russian government free of corruption just because the peasants weren’t allowed any part in its composition? No, power corrupts any type of government, and the best government is one that diffuses power to enough people that the corruption is diffused as well.
Good insights, however, I think you’re giving the “braniac” class too much credit for actually being highly capable. There are more ways to get into the Ivy League than mere ability, and conversely, extremely talented people usually don’t. There just aren’t that many spots. A glaring example of the first group is the POTUS.
Maybe it’s just me but I don’t find the libs ‘You don’t agree with me because you’re stupid’ argument appealing.
For a certain segment of the Left, government funding of political campaigns is beloved. I guess it’s supposed to get rid of the theater aspect of electoral politics and replace it with something resembling a high-school debate over policy, but in practice, it will simply cement incumbents and intensify celebrity politics since they have “name recognition”. Also, several writers have made compelling arguments that the mess that is UK media’s relationship with pols is precisely due to the strong restrictions on political campaigns over there: another example of power corrupting.
As for government, another problem has been yet another item that started out good and has become problematic: the use of government hiring and contracting for “aspirational” goals such as racial integration. Obviously, government had to get rid of any discriminatory ways it once had. But it went too far, so the current implementation of policies that attempt to address these issues have made it impossible for government to simply hire the best people or most cost-effective contractors. So, people don’t trust government to build and maintain infrastructure for anything less than several times what it would cost in the real world. Tourists hear that the Golden Gate Bridge was built massively under budget, and chuckle as they realize that there’s no way that would happen today.
So basically smart people will always be seen as “elite” “coercive” and “condescending” by people who are not. The country wasn’t ruined by smart people trying to help this country… it was ruined by smart people who fooled the less intelligent in a con regarding the service economy and off shoring. The less intelligent not only bought the idea since it was sold in a way that appealed to their base instincts of getting rich, but they signed on to help.
This article reeks of arrogance and a smugnance. The little people, who are not as smart as the test takers…Our elites are credentialed and frankly not that smart. It’s what you do that matters not where you came from. And the author of this little childish article could well remember that bit of advice.
A piece of paper or great test scores mean nothing in the real world. They no nothing of business and economics and their liberal ideas are pushing this country deeper in debt.
The problem with government is that it’s full of people. Greedy, fallable, bossy people.
This is not lost on the voters, who are greedy, fallable, bossy people.
The truth was, is and probably always will be that government is manned by human beings just like everything else. These human beings have their vanities, their lusts for power, empire building and wealth just like everyone else. People do NOT become altruistic and saintly just because they enter government service. And lack of a “profit motive” does not automatically confer evenhandedness and efficiency on a government body; in fact, the opposite occurs because often these workers lack ANY MOTIVE to be efficient or frugal. Anyone who’s ever dealt with a government agency knows this.
Liberals have to realize what the limitations of government power truly are; it does almost NOTHING faster, better or cheaper than profit and expense wary private concerns. It cannot compensate fully for life’s unfairness because no human being can possibly balance all of the consequences involved properly. We must come to understand when government is helping and when it is hurting and withdraw it in the latter case. And we must keep in mind the following: “It is said that power corrupts, but actually it’s more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power.”
when politics and education became their own fields of specialization, things started to fall apart. when a person that spent their entire academic life learning only to govern or theorize starts dictating business and classroom policy, it can’t end well.
Belief in government effectiveness is a fantasy. The minimum standard is always going to be perfection, and since government is occupied by people, it is therefore impossible to be perfect. As a result, there are always going to be examples to point to of the incompetence of government, which renders those who argue for its use in every problem seem to be incompetent. The closest that government can get to perfection is when its role is limited, i.e. military forces.
But the biggest problem for liberals is that rather than using government to inform people so that they can make their own choices, the liberal wants to use the government to force the correct choice (in their view) upon the people. I know that I am not alone in resenting someone else telling me what to do. My wife is the only one I allow to do that, and she hates the competition.
You forget the main reasons that the common people are disgusted with liberal social betterment.
(1) OBVIOUS DISHONESTY. The government and media tell us that blacks don’t commit vastly disproportionate amounts of violent crime, muslims don’t commit vastly disproportionate amounts of terrorism, gay sex isn’t unhealthy and doesn’t promote disease or reduce life expectancy, people on welfare are good credit risks, borrowing money to improve your lifestyle when your earnings are at the highest they’ve ever been is the path to social advancement, foreign countries will embrace democracy if we just stop thwarting their tyrants, christianity and church are harmful to the psyche rather than important bulwarks against the fear and desperation that comes with facing the random pitfalls of life without a trust fund, marriage is not critical to economic survival for the middle and lower classes, spanking children even when they play in the street is harmful, drugs are less dangerous than getting run over by a truck, we can be safe and treat the army like dirt, people will continue to believe in the American dream in the face of Affirmative Action that effectively eliminates above average whites from any kind of advancement, burning the American flag is freedom of speech while burning the Koran is racist, etc.
— Roosevelt and Truman succeeded by respecting the common sense beliefs of the common people. If that is done, there is a real chance to continue the liberal dominance of government. It won’t happen, and future policies will be written by people like Reagan and Palin who do the most important thing of making average hard-working law-abiding mostly white people feel that they are treated with respect and that their common sense and folk wisdom (which they believe to be crucial to their survival) are taken seriously.
(2) MEDIA BIAS. The people are just disgusted with the fact that the press has more than a thumb on the scale and that people who object to the wildest excesses of the left are vilified. The press is dominated by leftists, homosexuals, and minorities, takes money from muslims, and makes a fad of using “white” as an epithet meaning everything bad. I would vote for Sarah Palin just to cause heartburn for the media.
It’s freakin’ hilarious that the very first comment so beautifully illustrates several of the points of the article and [handle of forum participant deleted –ed] is self-righteously oblivious to it all.
Hey [person]–it’s a metaphor! If possible, stop vacuously using big words and lighten up a little. It’s not that we resent your intelligence like you resented our athletic ability; it’s that you think you are entitled to lord over everyone else because daddy got you into a fancy school, you did well on a test, got appointed to a position because of that test and now have undue influence despite an astonishing utter lack of common sense. If the average progressive lived life they way the want to govern, they’d have to move back to mommy’s basement. And yet I’m supposed to be in awe of you because of where you went to school? Accomplish something–on merit–more than being a nanny and then we’ll talk. Better yet, how about you and your ilk just leave us all […] alone?
I have had a theory that Democrats become Democrats because they were unpopular in high school and they want to have a government in place that can ensure that only people they choose can become successful. Mr Mead said this much more eloquently than I could have, but I think he’s exactly right when he says, “In the progressive era, the hierarchy of American adult life came to look more and more like the opposite of the social hierarchy in a typical high school. There, the unpopular and awkward smart kids were marginalized by the jocks and the cheerleaders. In adulthood the nerds ruled the roost and the ex-jocks pumped gas. Or if they sold cars or developed real estate, the nerds looked at them as if they pumped gas.”
So, so true.
Re: the jocks vs nerds high school analogy, an alternative model comes from Thomas Sowell (and builds on the post by Colin Durham #27): the vision of the Anointed vs. the vision of the Tragic. Too many of our elites use their intelligence and credentials as a badge to prescribe “solutions” to our problems, and they neglect the reality of Original Sin (the cornerstone of the Tragic vision), which stains every human endeavor, no matter how noble its intent. Thus EVERY policy has to be understood in terms of tradeoffs (Bruno Behrend’s post #2) as opposed to solutions.
Terrific piece. I have long thought that the Establishment of the Northeast and upper Midwest that was once Yankee, Protestant and Ivy educated and held a tight grip on Wall Street as well as the church, the academy, journalism and the arts did not so much disappear as it embraced the goo-goo reformism of Teddy Roosevelt, renewed the alliance with Blacks that had become largely irrelevant in 1878, and gradually changed parties.
It would be fascinating if someone were to do a sociological study along these lines but, alas, the sociologists are all in the tank.
“This is not a hopeful political road: a decades long hunt for an uncatchable unicorn will not inspire a new progressive era in American politics.”
That’s to say nothing of the fact that this unicorn of Greenberg is a means, not an end.
You can hypothetically – very hypothetically – inspire the people to vote for free health care, or carbon caps, or the various Dem social issues. But, if the people have rejected those, what is the purpose of campaign finance reform? To get more Democrats elected…for the sake of getting more Democrats elected.
This is not the stuff from which revolutions are made. I have a higher opinion of Dems current position – they still control 2 of the 3 branches of government and the media and won 2 of the last 3 elections – but if they really are in the positions of these withering editorials, then they’re looking at another Bush era where their rallying cry is “elect us just because.”
Stanley Greenberg: “The Democrats have to start detoxifying politics by proposing to severely limit or bar individual and corporate campaign contributions.”
Why Stanley, it profits a man nothing to give his liberty for a little safety. But for purported better governance?
I have thought for some time that when/if the Republicans gain power over the Presidency and the Senate and then proceed to repeal that generational liberal dream, Obamacare, that the anguish of the left will provide an opportunity to actually get leftist support for dramatically shrinking the federal government. The argument needs to be made that the left will never succeed in changing the whole country so they should welcome shrinking the federal government in order to free up resources and power for the states. They may not be able to change the country but they would at least have the opportunity to enact all their liberal dreams at the state and local level and they could just leave those benighted red states to “wallow in their own stew” while their own state or town soared into “rainbow land”!
The left has been working towards Obamacare for more than a generation and to see it finally passed and then immediately repealed will be a crushing blow. Hopefully it is not a pipe dream to believe that they will realize that big government is not the path to their chosen land and that the very federal government they have built up is now strangling any real hope they have of reform. Perhaps the more prescient will wake up to the benefits of the states actually being allowed to function as the “laboratories of democracy” they were meant to be.
“Instead, we would have government by philosopher kings, or at least by incorruptible credentialed bureaucrats. Alabaster towers of objectivity such as the FCC, the FDA, the EPA, the FEC and so many more would take politics out of government and replace it with disinterested administration. Honest professionals would administer fair laws without fear or favor, putting the general interest first, and keeping the special interests at arm’s length.” And that was a lie. Some bureaucrats, perhaps, did try that, but they were outmaneuvered and overwhelmed by those who were not honest and those who did not intend them to be.
“Greenberg’s answer is a more sophisticated and comprehensive version of a classic progressive idea. It is not simply, Greenberg points out, that special interests fight progressive initiatives; special interests have actually managed to subvert the institutions of the government itself. The progressive state has been taken captive by those it was supposed to keep in check.”
Many of us disagree with this–the state has been captured by those progressive interests themselves.
“Progressives want and need to believe that the voters are tuning them out because they aren’t progressive enough. But it’s impossible to grasp the crisis of the progressive enterprise unless one grasps the degree to which voters resent the condescension and arrogance of know-it-all progressive intellectuals and administrators. They don’t just distrust and fear the bureaucratic state because of its failure to live up to progressive ideals…”
No, we fear and distrust it because they seem to have lived up to their progressive ideals. The government workers are a special interest, as are the “progressives” themselves, working to expand the “state” at the expense (and pocketbooks, and jobs) of the people.
Professor, I have usually enjoyed your columns, but this “high school” analogy exhibits the same degree of intellectual arrogance that you rightly see in the progressives. Some of those of us who oppose being ruled by our “betters” may look at the actual results of the progressives over the past 50 years and be intelligent enough to see that those wise plans by our rulers simply haven’t worked. That is the core issue – the plans haven’t worked, and therefore it seems that the voters who realize that may in fact be acting in a more intelligent manner than the progressives. It is not an image issue, and quite frankly that seems to be all the progressives have to offer.
“…One way of encapsulating the aims of people drawn to figures like Sarah Palin is to say that these are people who want adult America to look more like high school, with intellect less highly regarded and rewarded, and people smarts and character counting for more….”
We’re where we are now because of the highly-educated “condescension and arrogance of know-it-all progressive intellectuals and administrators.”
Look at where the administrations pull from, Havard, Yale, etc.
It doesn’t work. We’re the latest experiment and we’re crashing.
Progressives might want to brush up on the nature of man and basic econ.
And if anyone wants to go back to high school, it’s the progressives. We have to be liked all over the world, can’t say this, can’t say that. Talk about a popularity contest.
The main article was good, the comments even better as to gaining insight into what the H is going on with our nuthouse of goverment.
I especially liked Toni’s (#7)conclusions — great thinking, give us more!
While this is an excellent analogy, it breaks down in one point. “The smart kids” are often precisely those who rejected “the nerds”. Those who were far more competent socially in school, whatever their SAT scores were, had the advantage even after HS. That is because making other people comfortable is more highly valued than technical competence even in most college majors, and has been for some time.
It is in college that the finishing touches of “the smart kids” are put in place, because whether they actually agree with the professoriate or not, they learn to seem so. They recognize that, outside STEM majors, making your professor feel smart is what makes him think you could be one of “the smart kids”. They learn the politics of HS well enough that they easily slide into political networks of the political science departments, and all the other “social sciences, much less the humanities.
The public schools have for several decades been far better at teaching kids practical politics than trigonometry. Indeed, this is the major excuse for keeping those “nerds”, who could advance faster in their chosen fields than others, with their age group. They have to learn to socialize, goes the cant. Really, what the public schools want is for these kids to “get with it” in learning personal politics.
Except that the real “nerds” don’t. Often they are Aspies who do not have the neurtypical brain connections that make those personal politics easy. Other times, they are just people who believe the idea that the course contents of a school are what they are there for.
What has placed those most competent at personal politics as the ruling class in society is that the “progressives” re-instituted enough hierarchy into the industrial environment that personal politics became vital to advance as a member of that class. This was so when agrarian society had its hierarchies in place, and it is so ever more as new hierarchies are emplanted by those certain they know what is best for us. This is their belief even though it is those hierarchies that squash the productive networks of industrial society in their efforts to control society.
Well put, Mr. Meade. Ordinary Americans are revolting against a nomenklatura that has lost all sense of proportion and openly expresses its contempt for anyone who has the unbridled gall to disagree with them. As the institutions they’ve dominated fail seriatim due to their inefficiency and waste, they’re striking out blindly. The Vice President’s unprecedented and vilely vulgar charaterization of the Tea Party as terrorists is the clearest indications I’ve seen that the nomenklatura is in full panic mode.
Two questions this essay never broaches:
Why should those who don’t fancy themselves saviors of the masses care about “the crisis of Progressivism”?
Given its “serial policy failures of recent years,” why should Progressivism not die a natural death?
When Greenberg publically stated he would never even work for a republican,he put his finger on the exact problem in America. Liberals have no interest in any opinion but theirs. Remember when America valued alternate opinions? Pathetic. Now we are terrorists and racists.
JKB comment #39: I thought your high school analogy very well done.
I think the wheels fell of this essay at the end. One needn’t go back to high school to find resentment for the teachers’ pets who the author identifies with those who now want to lord it over us. All it takes is growing up, wanting to be a man instead of a slave or a pet. The petty tyrants who regulate lightbulbs and toilets send an unmistakable signal to the public: we’ve got too much power. The root question is whether we want more government or less government. Not that leviathan has a snooty affect. The arrogance comes from the corrupting force of power. It’s bipartisan. Limiting power, especially the power of government, is much more important than settling scores from high school.
“It is a fight to break the power of a credentialed elite that believe themselves entitled by talent and hard work to a greater say in the nation’s affairs than people who scored lower on standardized tests and studied business administration in cheap colleges rather than political science in expensive ones.”
Well it is much more than simply that. I am a graduate of a top ten school. At the time of my graduation it was in a head to head fight for the number one ranking in the disciplines in which I received my degree. Since I disagree with the progressive ideology they look down their noses at my opinions, without regard to the source and nature of my education. Further the notion that they received their credential by hard work and talent is more and more in doubt as grade inflation marches on.
This is not about the source of one’s degree. rather it is whether the degree conveys ANY additional value in making many of the life decisions that one confronts. I paid for my education by working in a feeder industry for the auto industry. I worked side by side with men and women who had varying levels of education. Some without a high school diploma and some with. Some were in the trades: machinists, plumbers, electricians, pipe fitters, or mechanics. Some had a GED. Others had an associates degree. Some had Bachelor’s degrees, others Master’s, others MBAs. One of the things that I learned very early in that experience is that there is a huge difference between wisdom and formal education. There is also a huge difference between intellect and a credential.
Some of the wisest and best read people there, had the least formal education. The most highly credentialed were often the poorest informed about day to day events.
The simple fact is that being “hardworking and talented” does NOT make anyone better equipped to have a greater say in what happens here, nor in how other’s should live their lives.
Only in the last few decades has the reach of the federal government become so powerful that the self entitled can actually reach into our day to day lives and target individuals. It is the awareness of that power and the blind arrogance to use it that has raised the common persons willingness to fight back.
As long as they mostly catered to each other and left the rest of us more or less alone we were willing to ignore the absurdities of the political class. Now they have made themselves a burden that we cannot and will not suffer.
Liberalism: Ideas so good they have to be mandatory
Dear Professor– Progressives believe they are smarter than the rest of us. And have never had to prove it. They are not the adult in the room or the smartest one in the class. They just believe that they are. And they want to tell the rest of us how to live. Because they will make us better. Sound familiar?
Read history…correction understand history and watch what they are doing, not what they are saying.
It is only surprising that it have taken this long to make us revolt.
Personally I live in fear of the Franz Ferdinand moment which will change everything afterwards.
Your high school metaphor is so not working for me — especially coming from a man who wrote one of the best essays on Jacksonian populism EVAH. When folks start discussing the terms of an analogy instead of the underlying issue, you know you need a little more time at the drawing board.
Other than that, you’re dead right about the Greenberg pros and cons. He’s willing to admit that Democrats have a problem of their own, not Republican making, but he nevertheless arrives at essentially the same place progressive introspection ends up, to whit: “We’ve got messaging problem!”
I wouldn’t object to “a strong, active federal government” in Mead’s words if it were committed to the development of the country as a whole and to all the people. But it isn’t.
Thanks, Prof. Mead!
Although your essay contains virtually nothing new for those of us who have long been immersed in the wisdom of Buchanan, Tullock and Niskanen, not to mention Smith, Hayek and Sowell, you’ve elegantly repackaged parts of the argument in terms that even may help persuade at least a few of the conventional-thinking, mildly-leftish, naive do-gooders who dominate the bicoastal intellectual elites.
Keep it up!
Monopolies all suffer from the same faults, waste, corruption, feather bedding, empire building, and the attitude of those in the monopoly that “What’s good for us is good for our customers” which is never true. This is why the Government Monopoly will never work like the Leftists, Liberals, Socialists, Communists, etc… want it too, despite how many times they say “this time we’ll do it right”.
Our founding fathers got it right when they limited the Government Monopoly with checks and balances, it’s what American success has been founded on, and it’s what we need to get back to.
There is another form of monopoly that is associated with the Leftists, and if America is ever to thrive again must be addressed. It’s the Labor Gang monopolies, which have destroyed entire industries like the Auto industry, the education of our children, and as an example of just how bad a monopoly within a monopoly can be, the public labor gangs whose pensions and benefits are bringing down our cities, states, and working on bringing down our Nation.
We must anti-trust the labor gangs, we are all workers, and they shouldn’t get special monopoly privileges under the law, we should all be treated equally.
A few random thoughts from one of the unwashed …
1) Nerds vs. jocks is terribly inept. I’m a tea partier. And a nerd — my IQ is 150. The little religious college I attended was much easier to get into, but just as hard to get out of, as the Ivies. (I had over 70 credit hours of Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and German — REQUIRED.) As others have said, if one must use a High School analogy, our elites are the teacher’s pets, the student council brown-nosers, and the rich kids whose parents got them new cars when they turned 16.
2) “When unemployment is high, and the rich are getting richer, you would think that voters of average means would flock to progressives, who are supposed to have their interests in mind — and who historically have delivered for them.” What a bunch of self-congratulatory tripe. What have progressives actually delivered to people of average means?
a) They took us into WW1 to “Make the World Safe for Democracy” — and coincidentally to protect the loans they’d made to the British, because it was fairly clear Germany would be able to finish off the Russians in 1917, and then the Anglo-French in 1918.
b) They designed Smoot-Hawley to make sure Average Joe didn’t lose his job to imports. Whoops, stock market crash and a sharp recession!
c) They tried to “fix” the economy. The result of their bumbling hubris was the first time in American history that a Bubble Burst turned into a 12-year-long Depression.
d) That glory of “modern scientific thinking,” Eugenics. Just remember, though, that Progressives have nothing in common with Nazis.
I could go on, but this should suffice. Why should I have any respect for people who think that this garbage represents “Progress?” Progressivism is the ultimate religious faith … it endures, in spite of the fact it is a failure every single time it is tried.
Excellent essay, Dr. Mead. The phenomena of the military taking over the government was well known and understood by the Founders so there were clear institutional safeguards put into the Constitution to make a coup difficult.
However, since the New Deal, there has been an abdication of power by the Congress to the regulatory state where bureaucracies were given broad discretion to formulate the actual rules to flesh out law. Ultimately, this has led to the virtual escape of the bureaucracies from Congressional control where we have the EPA implementing CO2 rules that could not get through congress or the health care law where a barely large enough majority granted breathtaking powers to an unelected bureaucracy. This leads spectacles like Elena Kagan being unable to offer why there is not constitutional bar to a regulation requiring us to eat our vegetables during her confirmation hearing.
I think we need better institutional safeguards against bureaucratic usurpation of power – which is the heart of the progressive project – such as requiring explicit congressional authorization of regulations with significant economic impact.
The progressive view seems to be: Why can’t the stupid proles just pocket their welfare checks and union wages and stop complaining about our efforts to teach their children about the beauty of homosexuality and replace terrorist churches with peaceful mosques.
“There might have been a time when the regular kids were in awe of the special knowledge of the brainiacs, but the serial policy failures of recent years have dramatically eroded the prestige of the smart kids.”
I have to disagree with this passage. These collectivist intellectual’s policies failed because they weren’t as smart as they made themselves out to be or thought themselves to be. They just convinced so many that they where smart, and hence able to solve all problems. Believing in that class warfare junk Marx came up with should be the first sign someone lacks a decent balance between common sense and intellect. Such people, even if they are truly well intended, are destined to fail. That’s because they don’t deal with the real world.
What we have now is enough people finally catching on that these supposed intellectuals, aren’t as smart as they portend to be, and worse, that what they are doing and want to do more of is not just insane, but will lead to ruination. Wish this had happened a decade ago, it might have made a big difference. As things stand now we are going to pay a hefty price for the things these not-so-smart smart people have done to us in the name of whatever cliche they where selling.
Your are over analyzing this problem. It is a lot simpler, than the mob issues and fears. The issue is credibility. Ronald Reagan got credit for the robust recovery, all the while we were telling him he was wrong. Reagan was able to use that credibility to do transformative tasks. With Obama, NO RECOVERY = NO CREDIBILITY = NO TRANSFORMATION!
If Obama can’t deliver something that looks like a recovery by next summer…it is going to be a long cold winter.
One of the core problems is that the Left frequently confuses cause and effect. For instance, take the following statement in the Greenberg article:
“During the last half-century or so, when a Democratic president has led the country, people have tended to experience lower unemployment, less inequality and rising income compared with periods of Republican governance.”
During the same period that he cites, power has generally been exchanged alternatively between parties, with the Republicans coming out ahead. It is very easy to argue, for example, that much of the prosperity of the 60’s was the result of policies and programs begun during the 50’s; that the 70’s were the consequence of failed left-wing programs of the 60’s, and so forth.
Any serious analysis of the economy since 1950 would conclude that Republicans generally work harder to create the preconditions of prosperity, and that rising prosperity creates a more compelling argument for Democrats to the electorate to “spread the wealth”.
Obama’s problem is that he wants to spread the wealth, and the Tea Party has managed to get the point across that the wealth that has been spread for the last generation has mainly been IOUs to the next ones.
I have to join with those who disagree with the smart vs. popular dynamic. I was one of those awkward smart kids (though I fully realize not nearly as smart as policy makers or commentators). It’s not that the “smart” resent the “popular”. The problem is those “smart” people who are so wound up in their theories that they willfully dismiss realities such as our crippling deficit and tax burden, failing education, the hideous failures of Communism and the horrible health care in Cuba.
— and who historically have delivered for them
Only in Greenberg’s fevered imagination, and therein lies the rub for the Donks.
The best part of this article, worth repeating:
At bottom, that is what the populist revolt against establishments of all kinds is about. A growing section of the American population wants to think and act for itself, without the guidance of the graduates of ivy league colleges and blue chip graduate programs.
The fight for limited government that animates so many Americans today isn’t a reaction against the abuses and failures of government. It is a fight to break the power of a credentialed elite that believe themselves entitled by talent and hard work to a greater say in the nation’s affairs than people who scored lower on standardized tests and studied business administration in cheap colleges rather than political science in expensive ones.
At its founding, America was called “The Great Experiment” where Self Government would be preeminent. Our country is beginning to move in that direction. I hope it continues.
This is, perhaps, the best piece of political thought I have ever read. Thank you WRM!
To paraphrase Robert Heinlein, when a society votes for the impossible, what it gets instead is the disastrous possible.
To some extent, American government in general is guilty of this. The Right thinks that you can legislate morality, with the resulting “War on Drugs” killing countless people, ruining countless lives, wasting countless billions of dollars, and achieving essentially nothing. You’d think they would have learned from the history of Prohibition of the Twenties, but you’d think wrong.
The Left thinks they can make sure no sparrow will fall, at least not without some sort of free avian healthcare system to patch the poor beast back together again. Even the Christian god can’t manage that. They think that everyone deserves an above-average income. They think society must guarantee everyone not only an unalienable right to pursue happiness, but a right to catch it as well.
People are finally catching on that what the Left wants is impossible, and by trying to achieve it is inevitable dooming the country to the disastrous possible of economic collapse. That’s why people don’t think the Democrats can or will make their ideas work–they can’t.
The high school analogy is interesting but doesn’t go far enough. The battle isn’t between the jocks & cheerleaders on one side and the brains and nerds on the other. The battle starts with the politicians who, on the liberal side, use wealth transfer to buy votes. Whose votes do they try to buy? Remember the high school students who never did their homework or the ones who slept through class or even those who didn’t show up for school? They are the adults who need income transfers and the rest of the high school class, whether they were jocks or nerds, are paying the bill.
Good points except for the comment about disdain for smart kids. The problem is not disdain for all smart kids. For example americans still have a lot of respect for the smart nerds that led the computer revolution, and also for the smart kids that became engineers, inventors, doctors, or founded successful businesses. That is because they have produced real tangible results, with useful new products, and new job producing industries.
But the progressive version of the smart kids, the ivy leagers that dominate gov, media, law, and education, generally referred to as the governing class, have produced really dismal results, while constantly demanding more money, influence, and status for those dismal results. What americans see about the progressive smart kids is they have credentials, but no real practical intelligence, as measured by results.
Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Dems/Libs/Progressives appear to be without principles. Willing to do anything and everything to win. Like smear a young woman’s personal life all over the national media, in order to win an election. Like make & distribute a movie about assassinating a sitting president. Like push through a health bill that the majority of Americans did NOT want in the dead of the night, without giving anybody an opportunity to read it. Etc., etc., etc.
Not to mention the fact that Dems’ social programs are bleeding us dry. Here’s a new and novel idea — let everybody, except those who are truly not able, accept responsibility for themselves and do/pay their fair share. Nobody is entitled to anything except the ‘unalienable right’ to ‘life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness’.
“I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.” – Socrates
I think the small government types get this, while the progressives do not. Social engineering is tough to get right, otherwise we’d all be living in variants of Walden II.
I am conservative and a tea party supported primarily because I do not trust the government to do anything good for me, (the people), but always what is good for itself. I.e., Politicians want to be reelected and the government workers want better and better benefits. Okay, So according to the “progressives” I must be stupid and not know what is best for me because I do not agree with them. Problem is I have a PhD in Information Systems and have been in the IT industry for over 35 years, some of it with my own company. I do think it is funny it that Europe is moving away from the socialism model because it has failed and the progressives in the US are pushing like crazy for it.
So the basis behind Liberalism is Control. In short, a Liberal sees things that are not going the way they want, so we want to change them to go the “Right” way. Doing this takes money. Those Rich people have more money than they “Need”, so we will take it from them and use it the “Right” way. (because we know more than they do, besides they were just going to waste it) Now that we have their money, we want to change the behavior of others. So we give them money and tell them to do the “Right” things. Strangely enough, this does not work the way we expect. Obviously the problem is not in our ideas, or in the poor unfortunates we are giving money, it must be Somebody Else, most probably those Evil Rich People who are not giving us enough money. So we’ll take more from them, and spend even more to uplift the poor downtrodden. But now there are even more poor downtrodden than before, because the Evil Rich People have shut down their unaffordable factories (a bunch of dangerous pollution spewing monsters, we didn’t need them anyway), and moved elsewhere. So we take even *more* money from the Rich and the Not-Quite-Rich to spread around. We buy them food, we buy them houses, we educate their children, we try to guide their lives every step of the way, but it still does not work right. They take drugs, they fight, they steal good tax money, they have far too many children, oh the tragedy. It must not be our policies that are wrong, those Evil Rich People must still be screwing up our world. So we take even more money from them…..
Get the picture?
Robbing Peter to pay Paul is very popular with Paul. But it makes for horrible Government.
“If once the people become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, Judges and Governors, shall all become wolves. It seems to be the law of our general nature, in spite of individual exceptions.” – Thomas Jefferson
It’s universally acknowledged that “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. so on a sliding scale, the more powerful, the more corrupt.
Our government is way beyond it’s consitutionally allowable limits, and it becomes more corrupt every day. The only answer to the problem is to reduce the size of scope of government in a genuinely meaningful way. The majority of Americans are coming to this same conclusion, and as the Progressives goal is always to increase the size and scope of government, it is out of step with the people, and thus, doomed to failure.
#79 seems to come closest to piercing the veil. The progressives won’t acknowledge this has been done before, and it doesn’t work.
Can we please not do this to our country?
From the right we get hysterical articles in the WSJ http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903520204576482161446251504.html, which cries out, “Grandma’s going to die if you cut my funds.
The question becomes, can we walk this thing back? So many mouths are firmly on the government teat, as intended, I don’t see how it gets ended.
Theodore Dalrymple in City Journal spoke of U.K. programs being cut and the service stops, but people never lose their jobs. He called in a Madoff scheme with the power to tax.
Progressive ideas are better suited to a smaller, tribal-like community where a set of brainy individuals are capable of fully understanding the mulitple variables associated with–and causes and consequences of–the problems of that community. They can run that community systematically, like a well-oiled machine. A Progressive approach works well in that instance.
The size and scope of our community and her many problems preclude the possibility of small set of brainy individuals running a well ordered society (not enough brain capacity to handle that many variables)–instead you get a large, disorderly group with lots of incentives that do not mesh. System failure.
I’m with you about 98%, but I have a problem with this sentence; “….these are people who want adult America to look more like high school, with intellect less highly regarded and rewarded, and people smarts and character counting for more. “
I agree with the people smarts and character part, but I do not think Americans want to devalue intellect…. They want intellect to count only where it should.
What I mean by that is we still respect the brainiac surgeon, businessman or rocket scientist…. But not so much the well credentialed but often clueless economist, journalist, MBA, politician, bureaucrat or global warming scientist.
There are some things that even the smartest people CANNOT KNOW…. Like pricing information that only markets can give us….
And yet there are still highly paid, well credentialed fools who tell us that if we just give them a big enough budget that they’ll figure it all out for us and insist upon trying to replace the wisdom of the crowd when they do.
The Democrats have two interrelated ideas: (1) the indestructible desire for big government and the taxes that go with it; (2) contempt for the ordinary voter. It’s easy to impose taxes on people you don’t respect. Which leads to a corollary: (3) contempt for the basic values of middle class American life. The Democrats saw 2008 as an historic opportunity to build the social democratic state. And they had so little respect for the common U.S. voter and the middle class that they were willing to ram massive legislation down the People’s throats without giving the People they were about to tax and regulate into oblivion the slightest say. That is where you get inscrutable 2000 page health care bills passed in the dead of night. You can see in that bill the twin ideas come together, the desire for a massive and expensive administrative state and the idea that the People don’t need to know and don’t matter. That is where you get a “crisis of legitimacy”; when a political party tells the voters to kiss off and chooses to govern as if they know better.
Georg Felis # 92:
“So the basis behind Liberalism is Control.”
It’s the power. Liberals like the power. They have been corrupted by government power. They like government, and bigger government in particular, because they can use its power.
The solution is reducing the power of government.
Most of this is right on, as to be expected from Professor Mead. I disagree that the anti-progressives are anti-intellectual. Many of us hold intellectuals up as our heroes- just different intelectuals. We the “populists” and tea partiers are inspired by elites like Von Mises, Hayek, Rand, Madison, Cicero, and Aristotle, and we want “Progressives” to leave us free and stop trying to force their collectivist agenda down our throats.
Maybe just maybe progressivism just does not work?!!!
One size fits all big government solutions are always filled with unintended consequences and history bears out that central planning always ends badly.
For people who are supposed to be the intellectual elite they sure ignore the obvious.
Also I am convinced most progressives suffer from “pathological altruism” which allows them to rationalize any activity as the means to an end.
This of course leads often to good intentions turning negative or down right evil.
Besides it is a fact that when the private sector is left alone they perform much better than the bloated inefficient government.
We should follow Canada’s example and privatize the FAA and air traffic controllers.
Progressivism = Totalitarianism
A lot of words to obfuscate the fact the electorate has seen the failure of progressives/liberals/statists to deliver. We’re not buying the Great Society any longer. You have bankrupted the country and have nothing to show for it except wall-to-wall debt. Gov’t has proven to be inept, slothful, inefficient and corrupt. It is not in the American psyche to trust gov’t and we’ve been shown why that suspicion is not only correct, but healthy.
The more the people see (like the more Obama talks) the less they like. Let’s hope the next election drives a stake into the heart of big-gov’t and returns us to less taxes, less regulation, less intrusion and more freedom.
Professor Mead’s commentary hits the mark. Indeed, he echoes an article in the inaugural issue of National Affairs, published in Nivember, 2009, by William Schambra– Obama and the Policy Approach.
I have not read most of the comments, but it just may be that the President, whose intelligence and patriotism are always evident, simply may not warm to the give and take of politics and the negotiation between the White House and the Hill. He appears to be “anti-democrtatic,” (not a “socialist” or potential autocrat) but one uncomfortable with the masses with whom must deal. His comments about people who “cling to guns, religion or [have] antipathy to people who aren’t like them” perhaps predicted his response to those who strongly opposed him. The White House ignored or denigrated the initial opposition to the health care proposal surfaced in the tiown meetings at which senators and representatives revealed they were unaware of what the bill contained.
The President, Valerie Jarrett and others in his staff, believed they had developed non-partisan responses to America’s needs andcouldn’t comprehend how anyone acting in good faith could oppose the President’s orograms. This failure to comprehend why Americans might look askance at some policies, regardless of how good-intentioned the polices might be, was and continues to be a failure of politics. This failure is magnified by media outlets such as the NY Times and New Yorker, whose readers overwhelmingly support the President and his domestic policies, which also find opposition to the President either incomprehensible, ignorant or racially motivated.
Thank you, once again, Professor Mead and your thoughtful posters.
This is another thoughtful essay, Prof. Mead. You are quite right about Stanley Greenberg. Here is a pretty astute guy struggling to understand how the best and the brightest progressives could have finally elected the man of their dreams, only to see him failing miserably. In trying to come to terms with this reality, he is already a few light years ahead of most of his progressive friends, who cannot get much further than sputtering spiteful epithets like “terrorists” at their Tea Party foes.
But the idea that campaign finance reform is going to help Democrats shows that Greenberg still doesn’t get it. Like Plato with his archons, the progressives never seem to get that there are no wise men above it all. The yearning for these superbeings to come and solve our problems without messy politics is a fundamental misunderstanding of the human condition, and almost invariably leads to mischief–or tyranny. The weak point is not the electoral process, but the very humanity of the electorate.
Madison understood the problem that any government of mortal, vain and corruptible humans must itself be composed of other mortal, vain, and corruptible humans. Rather than decrying this brute fact and perpetual warring factions of partial interests, Madison understood that it is in the balancing of factions against each other that a limited government of fallible and ambitious mortals is consistent with individual liberty and the general welfare. We as free men and women have to solve the problems of society. for we are that society.
The progressives’ obsession with perfecting society (according to their criteria of course) is at fundamental odds with the complexity and messiness of actual human existence. From this presumption and arrogance, which would have shocked Madison (a nerd if there ever was one) and the other Founders, follows all the disasters of progressive policies. Whether humanity is perfectible or not, or what indeed this would even mean is debatable, but a few thousand years of experience shows that what progress has been made, has been made first in the individual human mind, which then finds kindred spirits in its voluntary association with others. The best government allows this progress to happen “from the ground up” and ratifies it when it coalesces into consensus.
Instead the progressives continually want to “nudge” this progress along, a word they use themselves, probably because it sounds less threatening than “coerce.” The impatience which drives this is understandable, as a child’s demands for food or immediate succor are understandable, but children grow up and progressives never seem to. A child’s impatience with the world and other people, if carried to adulthood, can only lead to
irrational demands and blind rage at all sorts of manufactured demons seen to be preventing those demands from being met. If not opposed, innocent childish impatience leads to rash policies, or worse, the totatalitarianism to appropriate by force (not nudge) the world to satisfy unsatisfied demands.
Besides, the practical failures of progressivism are all around us. Like some of the other posters here I think Dr. Mead also goes astray with this nerd vs. jock analogy. Of course there is class conflict inherent in the populist revolt against the “elites,” well-educated and well-heeled as they are, while Joe the plumber struggles to make ends meet. But this is not the nub of it.
Prof. Mead you say: “The fight for limited government that animates so many Americans today isn’t a reaction against the abuses and failures of government.” And then: “Think about it tied to a sense of economic grievance and compounded by the (perceived at least) serial failures of brainiac policy on matters like immigration, health care, multiculturalism and trade.”
Prof. Mead, these are not perceived failures. They are real failures, as is the destruction of our inner cities and the black family by progressive policies, about which you have written eloquently. I would contend that the fight for limited government is very centrally a reaction against the failures of progressive government, swollen with waste, inefficiency, duplication, and clumsiness.
As an affluent society we could afford a certain amount of waste. As a patient and compassionate people, we could allow that the elites were trying to do good. But the economic downturn has made it clear that we can no longer afford this level of clumsy waste and stupidity. Adding to this failure are the real abuses of TSA searches and Obamacare mandates. It doesn’t help that the elites, the President himself are so arrogant and oblivious to the effrontery, but the failures of our big government model are clear to anyone with the eyes to look, that is if they are not bebefiting directly by the government’s excess or blinded by airy ideology of progressivism which will not allow the eyes to see.
So I would assume Greenberg is going to join the only significant group not aigned with powerful special interests–the Tea Party?
OK, obviously not–so he’s just another lame person who ties himself into knots trying to explain things that his belief system cannot deal with.
Here’s a simpler answer that I think satisfies Occam’s Razor–the “policy positions” where people agree with the Dems are aspirational goals that most people would like to see happen… but the people are smart enough to understand that such goals are either impossible or would be far too costly, or atleast the realize no one has laid out a practical way to realize them. So they poll as agreeing with the goals, but their voting behavior reflects what they think is actually possible at reasonable cost.
Which suggests we need better-constructed polls that get at not just what people like in the abstract, but whether they want the government to undertake them (i.e., under force of legal compulsion) and how much they are willing to be taxed to that end.
“well educated people have seen it as their simple duty to use the powers of government to make the people do what is right: to express the correct racial ideas, to eschew bad child rearing technique like corporal punishment, to eat nutritionally appropriate foods, to quit smoking, to use the right light bulbs and so on and so on.
Substitute Hitler and Stalin for “Well educated” and we find all totalitarians think the same.
Good article. Very well reasoned and thought out. This is saying something as I am a conservative. There are a few points I might differ a little though. One of the things progressives seem oblivious to is that condescending and/or insulting people you disagree with makes them voters who will not vote for you, ever. Paradoxically, progressives think they are smarter than everyone else. And worse, they like to tell or imply to others that they are smarter and know better. I have had this happen to me over and over. I then point out my education at Harvard and Stanford among others and ask for their credentials. Guess what? They didn’t attend elite schools, that is for sure. So if you are going to tell me how much smarter you are than I, please have something, some evidence, to back it up. From what I have seen, I see a lot of arrogance and not much brain power. I digress. Telling people they are stupid will never, ever, ever get them to vote for you, even if they agree with your views. Progressives seem incapable of appreciating that very simple concept.
A fun read but not the whole story. The same problems are occurring in Europe as well and there brainiacs are respected, even in high school. I think people would put up with insufferable bureaucrats if they could see their value. Instead these people impose an agenda that frequently is annoying, counterproductive, or destructive.
Mr Meade will getcha thinkin.
No question he is spot on that the great Middle Class has had a bellyful of the self-appointed elite, both the unelected ones and the ones that got themselves elected by mastering the art of the con man.
But Mr Meade gives them way too much credit by implying most of them even think about it. Maybe Mr. Greene thinks about it, but rest assured, 99% of the curruptocrats didn’t enter their lives of white collar crime in order to “serve” the public. They got into to serve themselves.
And the analogy of the jocks and the geeks is cute, but wrong. There are plenty of both in the Tea Party. The correct analogy is the Mafia and and the businessmen they prey on.
How long ago did William F. Buckley say that he would prefer to be governed by the first 500 names in the Boston telephone directory than the faculty of Harvard? Too bad we didn’t listen to him way back when.
I recommend that everyone here read the new book Reckless Endangerment. Written by, of all people, a star New York Times reporter, it details precisely how progressive wishes and dreams, combined with stupendous personal greed and ambition by a handful of mostly government officials, led directly to the economic collapse of 2008. If I had absolute power for one day, I would make every Progressive read it.
FoxNews Jocks? O’Reilly went to Harvard, Van Susteren went to Wisconsin, Madison and Georgetown Law.
As you imply, Greenberg also should think about the problem of the extent to which we have delegated lawmaking to unelected, credentialed people with life-tenure. Some would call that aristocracy, no? John Adams certainly wood.
Due to the rise of administrative law-making, elections matter less than they used to. (Constitutional overstretch by the Court has also diminished the degree to which we the people can make laws that we want).
I think I remember George Wallace,populist presidential candidate, once referring federal officials as people with “little pointy heads” and bundles of guidelines.
Rasmussen Polls of potential voters show consistently that Americans do not want to be governed from the left or the right; they want to govern themselves. Also, despite this article’s angle, IQ is no respector of geography. Unlike the president, a graduate of Harvard, most in flyover country know the US consists of 50 states, despite being subjected to progressive public schools.
Leftism/Liberalism is based on lies.
Folks are coming around to the fact that Democrats are now just socialists and Americans don’t want socialism.
It’s that simple.
Americans also do not want to hear “Corporate Jets” and Oil companies any longer.
The class warfare crap is completely Non-American.
The irony is that progressives, like big government Republicans, promote a ruling class with perks and power that estrange them from the public, and a command economy that usurps personal and economic freedom.
I quote: “those dark adolescent days and think about the resentment and anger they sometimes felt when the social hierarchy seemed hostile and unfair”
That’s precisely why we don’t like liberal, intellectuals and progressives. We know we’re not driven by “resentment and anger” and want nothing to do with those who think we are.
Keep in mind that the happiest parts of the country tend Republican and the most miserable and badly run (think of California) tilt heavily liberal and Democratic.
“progressives, who are supposed to have their interests in mind — and who historically have delivered for them.”
What is he talking about?? Does he think we are stupid??? Progressives want Big government takepver with the loss of all personal liberty and freedom. What a liar!!!
One of the mantras of the 60s was to raise the consciousness of the masses and get them involved in the politicak process.
But there was an unspoken proviso.
We were supposed to be raised, become involved and then do what our betters told us to do. It was when the masses started deciding to think for themselves that the trouble started.
You can see the result when Progressives and the Liberal Media react to grassroots movements like the Tea Party with all the outraged horror of a Master Class witnessing the start of a Slave Rebelion,
Between the idea and the reality falls the shadow… The shadow between the supposed aim of the Progressives, to improve the human lot, is that their every action exposes their own contempt for the people they are improving. They are much like ranchers who admire and care for their livestock, but ultimately know they are dumb animals and should never be allowed self-determination. The detailed rules, regulatons, laws, politically-correct opinions, enforced behavior, the goal of eliminating independent mobility via auto, the desire to cram them into apartment boxes, minimizing travel, living space, health problems, diet, healthcare, are nothing but ranchers administering to dumb animals. And to protect their turf the bureaucrats must justify it with ever more rules and instruction and enforcement, not noticing that the human beast is being turned into passive livestock, leading a dreary and unfullfilling life. Now they are squeezing the very entrepreneurship, productivity, and creativity out of the beast, and the obvious and necessary solution is — more of the same: more rules, regulations, laws, taxes,control. Of course this hardwork requires more pay, greater job security, more power. Well, there is a group trying to stand up for the livestock, unfortunately the livestock is chickens and the defender is PETA. Is the Tea Party our PETA?
What about progressives wanting the exact opposite of what was considered good and morally responsible.
All I hear and see is the promotion of Gay Culture, Unions, Ambulance chasing trial lawyers, Bigger Government, Drugs legalized, Abortion legalized, Condoms passed out to youth, Special rights for terrorists, Labeling people that want a balanced budget terrorists and extremists, I am lost at how they got to this point.
I guess I need to go talk to a wimp with a beard and drives a Subaru.
Ronald reagen was half right. Government is not the solution but nether is capitalism. There is no
Perfect ideology for solving the worlds problems. It’s all trial and error. As for liberals being elitists who arrogantly rule the world I think the author and many of the people offering their opinions to the article are just ad arrogant and elitist in their views. They seek to blame everything on an arrogant liberal elite ad if they are some perfect class who have a monopoly on the truth. You are all full of it!
What we need is someone with political imagination that can find a way for bureaucratic organizations to peel off and go somewhere to die… kind of like the Post Office.
In his Summa Totius Logicae, i. 12, Ockham cites the principle of economy, Frustra fit per plura quod potest fieri per pauciora
[It is futile to do with more things that which can be done with fewer].—Thorburn, 1918, pp. 352–3; Kneale and Kneale, 1962, p. 243.
Progressives fail to take into account that an over abundance of exuberance in the micromanagement of the citizenry is the death knell of liberty. American’s have never been serfs and therefore we fail to yield to the yoke of authoritarianism.
The assumption that an over priced degree from a devolved libertine institution does not equate to natural intelligence and superior intellect; in fact, the willingness to pay so much for so little of real value may indeed suggest a failure to understand basic economic principles. People with less “education” but more innate intelligence will never follow blindly those so obviously brainwashed by their own narcissistic brilliance.
The real solution for the failed State (and at 14T in debt there is no doubt that failure has already occurred, with collapse imminent), and the undue influence of the special interest inside and outside of the corridors of the capital, is to return the power to the many states. “That government is best which governs least” and the easiest government for the people to hold sway over is the government that is nearest. If the State did not have the power to confiscate so much capital, it would not have the ability to redistribute so much largess.
The arrogance of the progressive mindset is anathema to every classically liberal American. I do not have a formal college education, as a matter of fact I am the pragmatic stoical result of two 8th grade educated Appalachians, and there are millions of citizens in this fine country just like me. To underestimate our innate intelligence, our ability to self-educate, and our capability to assimilate information, is to insult our human dignity.
The ignorant, dirty masses, wish to be wealthy too; and when we have achieved our goals we do not wish to be taxed out of our earnings nor have our efforts redistributed to the wagon sitters. These are the simple truths that “our betters” fail to grasp. We do not need the institutionalized government to micromanage our lives or regulate every single activity of life. What we need is for government, at all levels, to deregulate on a massive scale, and stop suppressing the human drive to compete and achieve.
The defining characteristic of the left is that they unknowingly have adopted Rousseau’s view of man — that man is good but for the corrupting influence of external factors.
But if man is good, then all of man’s failings are, in effect, the fault of society — not someone’s inability to control their selfish impulses. Thus, the left views government institutions as serving to constrain and manage external influences. They assume man’s inherent goodness.
By contrast, Americans inhabit a country whose founders viewed man as just the opposite. A man’s failings are largely his own fault for which he must take responsibility. Government institutions are thus ordered to protect men from each other.
Left: Government institutions are the agent of man’s betterment.
Right: Man is responsible for himself. Government establishes institutions to protect man from himself.
Not only extraordinarily well-said; but the tone, the tone: measured, calm, summary. Kudos.
Our “representative democracy” is most assuredly safe in the hands of progressives. We are so blessed to have the sublime wisdom of an elite which is better able to know our true interests than we do, more competent to spend our money than we are and selflessly guiding us to Utopia on this Earth.
The vision required to identify a public interest above and beyond the petty vested interests of the sweaty hoi polloi is a marvelous gift. It is high time that the ignorant multitudes gave their vision the deference it deserves.
One way of encapsulating the aims of people drawn to figures like Sarah Palin is to say that these are people who want adult America to look more like high school, with intellect less highly regarded and rewarded, and people smarts and character counting for more…………….
Think about it tied to a sense of economic grievance and compounded by the (perceived at least) serial failures of brainiac policy on matters like immigration, health care, multiculturalism and trade.
Okay, so when Patrick Henry said “Give me liberty or give me death.” he could have offerd some qualifications under which he would be willing to set this doctrine aside.
GMLOGMD unless we can arrange to put the jocks and cheerleaders in charge. Then maybe it would be a starter. Or else GMLODMD unless the tyrants brillantly execute their various schemes and machinations and they lead to wonderful results, then we might have a deal.
Nope. Patrick Henry didn’t want an adult/child relationship with the government as adult and himself as child under any circumstances, and neither does the tea party.
Liberalism/Obamaism/Marxism/Communism work until the money runs out.
America is bankrupt – everyone knows this but Americans want to ignore it. Well Obamaville is the apex of American Liberalism – it’s down hill from here for a couple of generations.
Liberalism is based on larceny (stealing for those of you with a public school education). When you’ve robbed “the rich” to the point they have sent their money to other countries to invest then you must steal from the unborn.
That’s what the debt ceiling fiasco was all about – stealing more money from our grand kids and selling them into slavery to pay the money back that you wacko Liberals blow on all kinds of stupid theories.
Well our credit rating is going to be downgraded and that signals the end of America as we know it – the implosion has begun and it won’t stop until all vestiges of Liberalism are swept away.
Good news for us Conservatives, bad news for America….
Meade is exactly right. Well said. Now let’s hope that progressives further fail in their collective attempt to turn our special nation into Greece.
The Progressive problem is that it has engaged in “mission creep” over the decades. Back in the Gilded Age days, the urban working class was, without a doubt, exploited by corrupt laissez faire capitalism. The labor unions were needed and most working class men supported them. Then FDR’s New Deal, which again, most working class and poor men (both urban and rural) supported because it solved an obvious problem in working peoples’ lives…the problem of old age. But since, that time, Progressivism (now liberalism) morphed into LBJ’s Great Society. Now, rather than political policies designed to help the working class with a common set of problems, liberalism sought to create a new American way by instituting a regulatory and welfare regime. And in its newest form, liberalism has creeped even further by promoting “social justice” and political correctness which punishes and condemns the values of the more traditional working class. This is why more libertarian working class people abhor the modern Democrat party. The party has moved away from the values of the traditional working class to the values of those who wish to control people’s thoughts, speech, and actions.
Excellent essay and spot on. I would say though, that Mr. Mead has this bit slightly understated:
“For large numbers of voters the professional classes who staff the bureaucracies, foundations and policy institutes in and around government are themselves a special interest. It is not that evil plutocrats control innocent bureaucrats; many voters believe that the progressive administrative class is a social order that has its own special interests. Bureaucrats, think these voters, are like oil companies and Enron executives: they act only to protect their turf and fatten their purses.”
Government bureaucrats are more than a “special interest”. They are rightly perceived to be “progressives”, and do what they can to help ensure “progressives” get elected, so they can keep their easy jobs, fat pensions, and free medical care. Employees in enterprise don’t pick their bosses, but government workers through unions and other vehicles get this capability. As a result, “progressive” politicians will fuel the bureaucratic “fire” to ensure their own re-election. Building a bigger bureaucracy = more votes and dollars destined to “progressive” election campaigns.
Republicans, on the other hand, want to dismantle this and take away the fuel, and all the waste and poorly-thought-out policies that come with it. The public understands this and is increasingly fed up with it. Wisconsin Governor Walker is the first of what I hope to be many enlightened leaders who is changing the game for the “progressives”, hopefully for a very long time.
The real problem for progressives is that they believe that society can be perfected by controlling the externals using laws, programs, taxes, welfare, etc. And their many flawed politicians and pundits reveal to anyone willing to look the truth. It is what is inside a man that counts. All of the effort to pretty up the outside doesn’t solve the problem. The founders understood this and tried to set up a system which had checks and balances on power. Progressives think that if only they had the power they could perfect things. The more power they get the more obvious it becomes that this isn’t true.
What progressives don’t understand about anyone else is that besides normal people resenting their supercilious patronizing attitude and behavior, normal people don’t want to tear a rich person down to being poor (like the liberals do with the “bad” sort of rich people) but rather a normal person wants the opportunity to know or do whatever that is necessary to become rich. Liberals are ironically the most rich-hungry people I have ever met- they just don’t want anyone else sharing THEIR pie, but they want the world to eat everyone ELSE’S pie.
Very well written article though as is many times typical, my opinion, of those who think they are our betters it could have been condensed into about one typed page.
Progressives seemingly don’t get it. America is in the main a center to center right Country. The Democratic Party has been stolen by those who lean very far left versus just a bit left, think Waxman, and Nancy P for starters. Their version of America is quite far from that of the average wage earner in America today. Though the public school system leaves a lot to be desired it has in the main at least taught people to read and understand somewhat what is actually transpiring in our country versus what the liberal elites would like us, the great un-washed masses, to believe.
Yes, most of us in the middle do want to help those who not able to help themselves. To a progressive though that is some 50% of the population not the 10% in reality cannot or won’t take care of themselves. Those of us that actually work for a living do not think much of seeing our taxes go up when we see government not only being very wasteful but a government that seemingly desires to give away our hard earned money to those who could but don’t want to help themselves to say nothing about a government that seemingly keeps growing and growing under liberal progressive administrations. There still is a fairly strong work ethic held by many of us and it rankles us that the progressives want to take from us to expand a government that is ever more self servicing.
Yes, in theory many of the progressive programs on the surface but in reality are not only way too expensive but are in fact designed to make an ever larger percentage of people dependent on the government. Unfortunately for the progressives many of the voters actually understand what is transpiring and don’t like how far the liberal elite want things to go leftward. If the Dem’s didn’t get so carried away with themselves they could probably remain the dominate party. But alas, in reality the American public seemingly forgets what the liberal left is really about and vote them back into office every 30 years or so. Then we the people have to endure a few years living under the leftist before we can vote them out of office. It’s really too bad that there is not more choices for the voter but alas it’s a them or them situation with no happy medium.
Personally I like the European system of government where there are several versus two parties one can vote for. That way one can actually vote for the party that is closest to what one feels best represents their belief. Then a government is formed usually lumping several parties with somewhat similar beliefs together to form a government instead of in all reality having to pick the party that is the least bad.
Guess until there are major changes in our system it remains a situation where one holds their nose and votes for the candidate that is the lesser of two evils.
We, the American people have awaken enough to realize that BO is much like Carter and in reality we made a mistake by being taken in and fooled by a near Marxist and that we have enough sense to vote him out of office in 2012. If not I am afraid that his non-democratic actions, IE using executive order to force things like having to use a light bulb we don’t really like or forcing power company’s that use coal out of business. It will be the American people3 who will have to decide how we want to be goverened come 2012. The choice will be are and hopefully the leftist will have scared us with the regulations, infringement into our lives, the intrusion on our personal liberties et cetera that we will vote BO and try the other guys again for awhile. If not, then heaven help us all.
This ties in with a cover story by Robert Reich that The American Interest ran not long ago.
This is a frightening post. It suggests our country will be incapable of overcoming its current difficulties due to cultural mediocrity.
Mr. Mead sees much but can’t see the forest for the trees. He points out many problems with progressivism and the way liberals are perceived, even acknowledges many failures that have resulted from progressive policies– a huge leap for many liberals. Still, he holds fast to his assumption that liberal policies WOULD work if not for the dreaded “corporate special interests”. First, there is no way to end solve this problem without destroying the corporations and therefore the economy. Second, he ignores that fact that leftist policies have most often failed everywhere they’ve been tried, (along with the inevitable stagnation, conformity and loss of personal liberty in leftist societies) even in countries without a strong corporate sector. Has he considered the idea– however painful this might be– that the “smart people” who should be “guiding us toward the light” might, just MIGHT not be as smart as they believe?
No, I didn’t think so, either.
I suppose you have considered and rejected the concept that progressive ideals are both a hodge podge and unworkable. I recommend considering it again.
In the IT world there is a war going on between the malware producers and those who’d protect your machine. The malware producers feed on the talents of the enthusiasts, young men (chiefly) who find their computers fascinating enough they want to learn everything about these boxes of bits.
A lot of what these hackers/enthusiasts learn includes knowledge that can be used to crack into systems. For every IT worker trying to prevent this invasion of hackers, crackers, and malware there are dozens to hundreds of the invaders out there. The IT workers have trouble keeping up with the raw creativity and knowledge of the massed “enemy.”
Progressives, with their silly ideas, think a small number of central planners can better run the country so that everybody is happy, equal, and living better this year than last. Those who would wreck the system outnumber those trying to maintain it. Those who see “equal” and wonder why I should work hard to get my A when my A is converted into a C and the excess score is distributed among those in my class who need help getting a C. That is the Communist progressive world.
But there is another one. When Big Business gets together with progressive all consuming Big Government one sees the classic situation that pertained in Germany for at least a century under a string of leaders, the last one rather charismatic.
And those of us who find “progressive” both an one word oxymoron and a dirty one at that note who the largest supporters for the progressive cause are. Big Unions, Big Government, Big this and Big that. The logical conclusion that comes out of it drives a whole lot of people who consider personal freedom and self responsibility to be very dear things worth protecting away from any consideration of progressivism and taints anything progressivists advocate as an idea.
If my perception of progressives is wrong then I’d suggest you change your messaging. However, that will be a hard sell. You have a nasty reputation, you know. (Hint, calling opponents terrorists while cozying up to creatures like William Ayers does not help your reputations, you know.)
If that perception is right one would wish you’d get your heads out of your nether orifices and examine reality for a change.
I think some attention should be paid to the habits of the progressive elites. They, and their favorite institutions, have explicitly rejected religion not just ritually, but as a topic of intellectual interest. They see religion as a sign of mental weakness and an illegitimate consideration in the public square.
Secondly, they have declared themselves to opponents of the U.S. military. The recent fiasco about DADT and the reluctant agreement of the elite universities to allow ROTC on their campuses is a perfect encapsulation of their priorities. Why should a class that is unwilling to shed its blood to defend its country, be allowed any share in its government?
Third, they have valorized sexual acts and practices such as abortion and homosexuality and declared them to be the core of their civil rights agenda. It is unseemly for any ruler to allow his personal habits to become a political issue. When they were puritans, they at least kept their nasty habits to themselves.
One Quibble Mr. Mead,
I consider Mrs. Palin quite intelligent as well as humble, not to mention her “people sense” or as I infer, her common sense.
I say she is quite intelligent due mainly to her ability to confound the entire D.C. establishment.
In example, she changed the entire course of the healthcare debate with two words from a facebook post … death-panels.
Secondly, if it were not for her resigning, she would not have been able to join the battle in the manner in which she did.
Her resignation from Alaska’s governorship, struck me as rather Sun-Tzu-esque at the time & events have confirmed that impression.
Progressives are almost all on the government teat in one way or another (and are often the products of pro-government university indoctrination). They view the downsizing or reform of government as a personal threat to their livelihoods, but see the constant growth of government as insurance of steady employment and opportunity.
What follows from this, is an endless web of rationalizations for, and strident politicking for – bigger government.
Never mind the clear historical precedence of over-grown governance, which always leads to crippling inefficiency, corruption and failure.
@120 If Capitalism is so horrible, why has it enriched so many other in this nation and around the world. Totalitarianism has done much, much worse. If it is so horrible, propose another system that does as well. Perhaps it is the worst form of trade, except for any other. Trust me, you ain’t smart enough to figure it out, and neither am I. Capitalists are at least smart enough to know that. Progressives think they can, and hence 44’s main and incurable problem. He thinks he can make you better.
I remember reading a significant book about 6-7 years ago called The Coming Democratic Majority. Laying out social and demographic changes, the book made a persuasive argument. The authors were dead wrong–on just about everything. This nation is, and has always been, a center-right country. If anything, we are moving farther to the right, and liberals have no one to blame but themselves. They are incredibly corrupt; the DNC under Howard Dean cheated to select Obama as their nominee in 2007. They are incredibly arrogant; Calling Americans “terrorists” for engaging in our political system is chilling and despicable. Lastly, liberals are LOSING the hearts and minds of American voters, because, as hard as propagandists work to brainwash, we are still capable of seeing the rank hypocrisy of liberal ideologues.
The progressives now face a choice. That choice is between the administrative welfare state and representative government. This is actually what Cass Sunstein is all about. Sure, you pretend to give the voter choices, you just shut off certain choices to him, herding him toward the progressive ideal of justice. And if you go back and read the beginning of Plato’s Republic, the end of government was not a form of government with processes and procedures built in such a way as to preserve freedom, but to set in concrete a particular ideal of justice.
Like the younger Plato, the post-modern progressive thinks he understands what justice is in a purer way than the other seventy percent of the country, and he is willing to sacrifice representative government on that altar. Well, the country has been aging, just as Plato did and in the resulting maturity of that aging process we are coming to the same conclusions he did when he wrote Laws. That successful representative government means finding a way to give people and the subsidiary associations that make up the population and have a life other than that of functions of an overweening state a say in it. This is the origin of the “mixed state” that was later picked up by Aristotle, Polybius, Aquinas, and Sidney; and is the basis of the institutions established by the founders of this nation.
Bad ideas come and go, hiding in the shadows during times when they are not welcome, and then springing out when people are susceptible and unaware. There’s no Marc Antony to read Caesar’s will today. Our supposed Caesar can only take the power he craves by acting in ways that are totally illegal.
Good ideas have a permanency that stands the test of time. If we are to have representative government as our end, and not some cockamamie idea of justice, we’ll stick with the permanent things.
“…unless one grasps the degree to which voters resent the condescension and arrogance of know-it-all progressive intellectuals and administrators. …”
Yes indeed, and I actually fall into the brainiac-elite-education demographic. Guess my working class roots and (bad in hindsight) decision to make a career in manufacturing sensitized me to the “arrogance and condescension” in full bloom under Obama and Pelosi.
I have been increasingly seeing the Jacksonian surge in the electorate, and predict Texas Governor Rick Perry will ride that wave. He is more like Andrew Jackson than anyone for a long time.
Whether anyone can actually change the federal behemoth is another discussion. Mitch Daniels seems to have done it in Indiana as the reincarnation of Calvin Coolidge, not Andrew Jackson.
2012 will be a rage-fuelled anti-incumbent election.
May the re-industrialization of America gain steam even without a functional federal government. My irony of the day is that the literal-Constitutionalists seem unable to criticize the structure of our government, unable to challenge the trajectory since FDR of an imperial executive.
Mr. Mead: they really do not see themselves as condescending. The fire-wall of political correctness is hardwired into their brains 🙂
It is unfortunate that an article that is so insightful ends in an utter train-wreck of stupidity. “…it is part of why the jocks and cheerleaders on Fox News so consistently outdraw the nerds on CNN”? Really Mr Mead. If you believe that you are as delusional as Mr Greenberg. The “nerds” on CNN are losing market share because they don’t do their job as journalists. They don’t even try to give a balanced perspective on issues and news stories. Think again, Mr Mead. Something tells me that you have some “Greenberg” issues of your own.
BTW, it is no accident that Senator Tom Coburn has dissected the federal bureaucracies to identify overlap and waste. Seems his BA was in industrial management and he worked in manufacturing at the family company before he ever decided to go to med school. The only industrial engineer in Congress. And now no one listens to him.
I enjoyed the article. The jock vs. nerd analogy was just that…an analogy. I didn’t take it as literally as some…it was meant to convey a certain feeling, and like all parables oversimplified.
That said, one thing was not mentioned in the course of the article. There are plenty of people who, though they would have supported the progressives earlier, have been forced to defect due to one issue or another. The “New Right” that gets mentioned is mostly made up of these people. Many would have proudly voted for FDR but can’t vote DEM now. The Religious conservatives and the defense minded Scoop Jackson types voted DEM at one point, but now can’t. Devout Catholics used to be the bedrock of the Democratic party and now can’t support it. It is an open question as to whether supporters of Israel will be able to remain for much longer. Now, none of these groups are numerous enough to destroy the New Deal Coalition in one fell swoop, but they grow the coalition opposed to Progressivism. It is fair to say that the Reagan Coalition was made up of two groups…those who opposed Progressivism from the start and those who found that the Progressive coalition turned against their interests. Reagan himself seemed to think he was one of the latter with his statement “I didn’t leave the Democratic party, the party left me.”
Excellent commentary from Dr. Mead.
The question presented by Dr. Mead is whether government, and more particularly, a national goverment that is fairly removed from the people, can: 1) accurately identify problems, 2) identify solutions to those problems and 3) implement those solutions through the political processes that exist in any governmental structure.
Progressives believe that government can do these things. Small government conservatives are skeptical that it can. For me, an enlightening book on this subject was Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s “Politics of the Guaranteed Annual Income” that was published nearly 40 years ago where he chronicled how President Nixon’s Family Assistance Plan got distorted and ultimately undermined by any number of players to the point where it collapsed.
I would love it if an enlightened and aware national government could solve many of the nation’s ills that progressives would assign to it. But, as a realist, I question whether the national government has the capability, wisdom or focus to do many of these things. Tweaking campaign finance reform isn’t going to resolve this basic dilemma.
Which I guess makes me a small government conservative. The national government has an important role in preserving the peace, protecting our citizens, preserving our environment and making sure that our liberties are guaranteed (e.g. the Civil Rights Act of 1964). But when government decides to run roughshod over the free market or displace state and local governments, its undertaking responsibilies that it cannot ably discharge and asserting powers that our framers wisely elected to reserve to others.
Actually WRM is tiptoeing around the truth, we are being ruled by an immoral, corrupt, arrogant, self-serving group of elitist statist that deserve to be throw out and prosecuted for crimes. It is critical that the parasitic Welfare Statism be abolished for it has become a suicidal entity. The Government must be limited and returned to the Constitutional Republicanism that as originally intended.
I found the column interesting and the comments, for once, even more interesting. I will link to this from my Old Jarhead blog and invite those who commented here (well, most of them), to comment on it at tartanmarine.blogspot.com. I was not a nerd in high school (D average until the Marines gave me the discipline to get as in college), Nor was I a jock/student council type. My HS teachers and classmates were pretty surprised when I was elected to the state senate eight years later, though in another state. If progressivism is dead, it has probably taken the Republic with it. The programs here, and even more so in Europe, which we are chained to economically, are hard to touch politically and are dragging us to the abyss. Every day I consider we are closer to a fiscal collapse, followed by a social and political one. Greek-style entitlement riots will be the best of it; I expect blood in the streets. These are the “good old days” your kids will remember fondly.
Robert A. Hall
Author: The Coming Collapse of the American Republic
(All royalties go to a charity to help wounded veterans)
“Sold themselves as an honest umpire in charge of American life….The weak point is the electoral process.”
With the opening of the free franchise and public office to all comers in the early 19th century in the name of democracy, the procuring of impecunious purchasable politicians became functional to political/economic system; many progressives operated thusly as they were part and parcel of system – power not excercised by dilatory members of any functioning organization will of necessity be excercised by more diligent members, a universal rule applying to corporations, fraternal societies, labor unions, governments, etc.
The Progressive Crisis brings to light the old trick of using democratic rhetoric to cloak an undemocratic class order highlighting disparities between what elites profess and what they practice as considered by large numbers of Americans; Americans who, for the most part, think ideas and programs of much discussed progressives are passe while looking for ways forward in this accelerating era of socio-economic change. I think WRM infers that Americans want more truthful information and an ability to impact change.
The way I see it, those of us in the private sector feel that the government is run for the benefit of the public sector. Its first manifestation were the Reagan Democrats. We see prosperity, in the form of high wages and extraordinary benefits accruing to public sector employees and rightfully resent that such largesse comes at the expense of private sector entrepreneurs and employees. Until this imbalance is redressed, even left leaning working class people in the private sector, particularly white males, will feel that the Democratic party does nothing for them. So the politics are not so much Democrat vs Republican as as private sector vs public sector.
K2K: do you reckon that Perry is of Scots Irish descent, a la Jim Webb; like Jackson, Grant, Reagan, Patton and many other historical American greats (who claim among them a disproportionate number of such Irishmen irregardless of their overall low numbers)?
Liberalism is a dying religion. Like all dying religions, it has devolved into magical thinking of the first order as its adherents grapple with the unthinkable: that they’ve been abandoned by their gods and let loose to wander the world like orphans without patronage or shelter.
Look at congress today. In both houses, conservatives are significantly younger on the average. They’re also articulate, polite, intelligent, and god forbid, calm. Their elder liberal counterparts are the opposite, resorting to ad hominems at the drop of a hat; shreiking banshees without a cause…confusion and misdirected anger, more sure signs of a collapsed religion. Hence the compulsive and relentless excoriating of the Tea Party.
As of Nov. 2010, conservatives are, in ever larger numbers, black and brown and female. In 2012, they will double down on those advancements.
Everything eventually turns into its exact opposite.
Liberalism in the early 20th century was riding the wave of the political zeitgeist, rightly curious about the Great Russian Experiment, and wisely looking for new ways for government to serve its people. It quickly found its fully formed political platform and honed and stuck to it, while conservatives remained stuck in loyal opposition mode. Between the media and academe, everything was been skewed leftward through the 20th century, giving the impression that liberalism is the norm, that the far left is the near left, and that all conservatives are fanatics and radicals. Eventually, conservatives came to believe that, too. Hence Bush, the compassionate conservative, who believed in big government, reckless spending, unaffordable entitlement increases, and nation building. The perfect embodiment of something turning into its opposite. Conservatives still tend to self-perceive as the opposition party. Hence, the “party-of-no” trope. They seem only now to be coalescing into something that could become a lasting power party.
Communism and socialism were ideals well worth exploring, but when, in domino fashion the role models, Russia, China, Cuba, Vietnam, East Europe, etc., came falling down to be seen as viciously totalitarian and deeply dysfunctional, instead of dealing with it, the global left defaulted into denial. And they stayed in denial even after the Krushchev Report (and later the Venona Intercepts), saying to themselves, well, the Russians just didn’t do it right, but now we know how. Then they invented New Socialism in the late 50s, early 60s. Europe became the perfect petri dish for socialism lite, as it could easily shirk its NATO responsibility for growing a military. Let America pick up that tab and while they’re doing so, let’s ridicule them. But now Europe falters badly and has pulled up lame.
I don’t find the quoted wisdom above from Greenburg to be impressive. Why is he surprised? Liberal historians, economists and academics have been spinning a false narrative of American history for nearly a century. Read Amity Shlaes revelatory work, The Forgotten Man, for a debriefing on the FDR legend and with it most of 20th century liberalism. If there’s pervasive ennui in the culture today, a good part of it comes from the shock of a people who are just starting to discover an unfiltered version of their own history. That’s rather like discovering that the Bible we thought was a holy book was instead a forgery and the real Bible promotes a religion in antithesis of what we thought it was; loss of faith ensues, depression sinks in, and ennui claims the day.
A recent study showed that incarcerated black males have a significantly longer average maximum life span than do those not in prison. Could there be a more damning statement on the welfare state? It’s safer to be in our overcrowded and extremely dangerous prison system than to be on the streets of their own home towns. Black conservative economists Tom Sowell, Walter and Armstrong Williams, who grew up rough and tumble and have intimate insight into the horrors of the nanny state vs. their own stalwart efforts, have been writing about this for decades. And have been ignored by liberals, white and black, throughout.
America has one great asset going for it, or perhaps it’s a lack of a deficit. We’re nowhere near as immersed in the socialism lite of Europe, where it’s now optimistic to propose a 40/60 wager against its survival. We’re a different people. Polyglot,, a microcosm of all peoples who have learned how to work together, unlike Europe; stubborn, and prone to a mad but focused individualism; unapologetically capitalistic, with at least the muscle memory of a work ethic.
We can still pull back from the edge, but we don’t have a lot more time to waste in doing so. Recent events, as awful as they’ve been, are hopeful augers of that possibility.
The problem now faced by the “progressives” is that the Tea Party has stood up in front of the crowd and declared, “The emperor has no clothes.” The only ones left pretending to see clothing are the members of the court and their media sycophants.
Once the voters realize the king is standing there naked, the ruse must come to an end. Or, to mix metaphors, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle.
The high schoolers don’t mind the college graduates, as long as they follow the same rules. the high schoolers may prefer Hemingway and Heinlein but they can also enjoy Steinbeck and Faulkner. They just can’t stomach e e cummings
I loved your piece, but I think you missed something. People feel that the game is not fair and rigged against them and in some ways they are correct. It is not only that the politically favored get bailed out, but the value of the dollar falls 3-4% a year. The wealthy and sophisticated can hedge by purchasing stocks, gold and other commodities. They can diversify in other markets and currencies. Gains are taxed at 15%. Without excess capital the worker, white collar or blue, sees his income being eroded. And any wage gains are taxed at ordinary income rates. The tradition hedge for the middle class has been housing, but that has proven to be a disaster so his ability to keep up has been shut off. I don’t think we want to tax capital at higher rates, but we do need a sound currency. When I first went to Switzerland a dollar would convert into 3.5 SF. Now I receive 0.76 SF. One can make the same comparison with gold. The middle and lower income groups are being cheated by our obsession with debasing our currency.
This part I disagree with. This generation of progressives is manifestly incompetent and we see the results every day.
I know some of those upper level DC “progressive” bureaucrats and they really do believe that they are more enlightened and just all around better than 99% of the rest of the country. They and their familes are so pampered, so isolated and so well taken care of in every aspect of their lives that they cannot even begin to imagine what “average” americans have to deal with. Nor do they really care. Right now most of them are at their beach houses or on their twice yearly European/Caribbean vacays – August recess you know….and they work so very hard for “the little people.” Just what our forefathers envisioned, huh?
I share your sentiment, Grace. My reaction to the article is similar:
I have long understood that this progressive ruling class suffers from an addiction to moral superiority. I recognized their arrogance, but I always thought *they* didn’t recognize it…that they believed it’s the natural way of things.
Then I started reading Mr. Mead’s blog article, and was surprised to see his candid admission of the corruption-through-power cycle, where recipients of the welfare state are the voters who perpetuate it by electing more big-government nannies. The snowball keeps rolling, growing in diameter … threatening to swallow our whole GDP capacity and more.
It was starting to feel refreshing to see a progressive admit how misguided their whole vision is. He was admittting their arrogance. I had never seen this before, andn I was enthralled. I began trying to anticipate how the article would conclude. I envisioned a turning point had been reached with this man, and a defection from progressivism to conservatism was brewing. These conversions, such as Alan Dershowitz’s, fascinate me. When an unconstrained intellectual elitist finally recognizes the inevitable constraints of the real world, his/her self-commentary provides some of the most interesting insights you’ll ever find on this ideological chasm between progressivism and conservatism.
But alas, it turned out Mr. Mead’s climax was not a display of humility, but an expression of a new height of arrogance. In effect he said “Progressives are arrogant, and they have a right to be so. The justification that has been used for our arrogance is crumbling to pieces. We must find brand new ways to justify our claim to ivory tower status. We must renew our claim to moral superiority using a fresh rationale, because the commoners no longer believe the old line of BS.”
I thought he was going to give up his “decades-long hunt for an uncatchable unicorn.” Instead, he called for nominations for a new mythical fantasy animal to become the next mascot for his cult of compulsive nannyist addicts. Dare I suggest the Phoenix?
I suspect a progressive-minded bureaucratic group of wise elders helped smaller, tribal communities succeed and thrive in the long, long-ago. (safer and more stable than a philosopher king and his dreaded heirs)
I think the trait is about as useful as an appendix in our large and complex modern civilization.
Well, Mr. Mead, I’m a liberal, and I’m impressed both with your analysis and with the tone of the comments. I do think that admitting to legitimate popular disillusionment with governance doesn’t exclude disappointment with a certain, let’s say, lack of insight on part of the “bitter clingers” (how else to explain broad opposition to Obamacare as a whole with a broad support of its measures individually?).
Furthermore, it’s interesting to note how badly the electorate comes off in your essay.
All in all, you’ve given me plenty to think about. Thanks for writing something so constructive and free of the dumb newspeak shorthand that we have instead of a political debate.
I think you outline a number of correct issues, but I think at the end you veer away from the core of the issue.
People do not like to be meddled with. It’s not a resentment of intellectuals. There are plenty of intellectuals in the anti-big government crowd. Not all of course, but then neither is the progressive crowd made up of all intellectuals, there are plenty of uneducated followers there.
It’s about rewarding the right incentives. Allowing success to be its own reward, rather than punishing it. Not being forced to subsidize others failure.
But it really comes back to people not liking being told what to do, especially when it’s done with arrogance and contempt. You do not need to be part of the underclass to feel that. You don’t need to be one of the ‘jocks’ or have not been a ‘nerd’. There’s plenty of nerds currently working their way up in the world that enjoy their individualism and don’t feel like being made to support others through force, though plenty are happy to pitch in with charity.
It’s about having enough sense to be and let be. Not try to force yourself on others.
There’s nothing anti-intellectual about that. It’s about respecting the individual enough to not brow beat them into some form of collective if they’d prefer to be left alone. Collectivism isn’t intellectual, individualism is not anti-intellectual. Proposing it just does not rationally follow.
This is yet another tour de force of social, political and economic commentary by Professor Mead.
Congratulation! You have almost “broken the code.”
However, rejection of the bureaucratic state goes far beyond those “people who scored lower on standardized tests and studied business administration in cheap colleges rather than political science in expensive ones.” It encompasses an emerging majority of entrepreneurs and libertarians who have grown-up in a world of freedom and choice, and who fundamentally reject the authority of our ruling technocratic meritocracy.
Gone are the days when the right degree from the right school entitled someone to exercise power over others. Rather than reactionary, this new social compact is classless and democratic, and is based upon a strong rule of law with respect and protection of fundamental liberties for all.
Neither major political party understands this new emerging majority. But Professor Mead is on the right track. Keep up the good work!
@proterozoic. You’re impressed with the tone of the comments? Really? I’ve scrolled through the 162 comments and what I’ve seen are mostly (seemingly) partisan accusations that Democrats are corrupt, venal, snobby, evil. Perhaps not surprising given that this is the argument Mead seems to be making in somewhat, although not much, more diplomatic terms. But hardly a tone I’d be impressed with.
@Chumbawumba Dude. I often watch videos on Youtube and read the NYT and WSJ. I should know better, but I can’t help skimming the feedback sections every once in a while. Believe me, I’m impressed with the tone of the comments here.
@proterozoic. Dude. How sad then that the comments sections on YouTube, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have so degraded our discourse that the comments here are to be favorably received. Although frankly I’ve read the comments sections on the same and more and don’t see a whole lot of daylight between those and these.
I don’t have time to read all the comments, so this may have been said already, but some of the dumbest people on earth are progressives. They have no grasp of human nature and thus their policies always have unintended consequences. Obama is supposedly one of these “smart” people, but they guy is utterly and totally clueless. A modern education doesn’t teach what is most needed in our leaders: wisdom.
The progressive era is dying a well-deserved death. As is the GOP era. The great come-uppance is apace and is playing out via the inexorable tyranny of…arithmetic. And, given the perverse incentives of the current electoral patronage system, there is nothing anybody can do. The plutocrats have done such damage this time that only an economic collapse will release the country from its debt shackles, enabling us to stop throwing good money after bad. If this process doesn’t end in another world war (will the Chinese accept being stiffed on their T-bonds without a fight?), we will eventually begin digging out with a necessarily much smaller bureaucracy and much smaller government spoils over which to fight. This will be a dark period for millions–especially the newly unemployed bureaucrats–but eventually they will either learn how to compete with a Chinese worker class that is already demanding outsized wage increases (sowing the seeds of their own eventual uncompetitiveness), or their standard of living will plummet. An inevitable outcome.
The coming decade will be a fascinating time to be alive.
I partly agree with the diagnosis of progressive’s ills in Professor Mead’s article, but not with the remedies proposed.
While the progressive upper middle class may have lost its self-confidence and standing in the debacle of the Vietnam War, and its money in the great inflation that followed. the technocratic classes, if anything, have gained ground and standing since then. Applications to elite colleges have certainly not dropped, and the business and financial elites are populated by their graduates, who are increasingly drawn from the ranks of the elites themselves.
If there were something to populism, we’d see the graduates of cheap mid-rank business schools being snapped up by global financial firms, but of course we don’t see that.
So something different has been going on. The new technocratic elites, the nouveau riche, have, with a very few exceptions, turned away from political and social involvement. They no longer think of themselves as members of a local community, let alone a nation; they are an internationalized caste unto themselves. The United States has been merely one place among many in which to make money and lead the good life, though one of the best, a reliable safe haven.
What has frightened the technocratic elite in the present moment is their belated realization that the know-nothing populists who dominate the US Congress are capable of crashing the entire world economy, without so much as a clear understanding that this is what they are doing. Apparently it is not safe to ignore national institutions, as technocratic elites have tended to do (except when votes had to be bought to ensure favorable regulations for one’s own business). The belated involvement of Wall Street representatives in the fight over the debt limit was symptomatic.
The solution in my view is for the progressive upper middle classes to regain their self-confidence, join with the present technocratic elites, and remake themselves on the Confucian model. This will require them to give up a good many romantic notions about themselves as outsiders, as speaking truth to power from the margins. And they will need to give up even more romantic notions about Jacksonian democracy and “the people yes.”.
Over the past fifty years, they have given away their moral authority, swayed by a sentimental leftist populism and guilt over their role in maintaining racist social structures in the early 20th century. Yet, without the leaven of their social conscience, the alternatives facing us are a debt-ridden, militaristic, coarse, consumerist populism, something like Berlusconi’s Italy, but with nuclear weapons, or, even worse, a thin layer of callous super-rich over a great mass of misery, the Haitian model.
Neither alternative is “Jacksonian.” Both exemplify bad government (in the country and in the city). Yes, good government may be irksome to people who don’t want to have to do in the present what they ought to do for the future, who want their candy now instead of later. Perhaps a newly reinvigorated progressive class could say to them: “Too bad.”
WRM had me hanging on every word until he got to the high school metaphor. That’s just silly. High school’s jocks and cheerleaders have nothing in common with Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh! These are hard-working, charismatic, dynamic, driven people who would be leaders in any context. Choose a better metaphor.
“than people who scored lower on standardized tests”
Note that these people MAKE those tests.
From where I stand, easily the most complete, thoroughgoing and unsparing diagnosis of our predicament contained in any post so far (my own included). I just wish I could be as sure as you of the ability (or even the desirability) of the upper middle classes to “remake themselves on the Confucian model.” In particular, what I don’t understand is how “joining with the technocratic elites” is going to help them regain their self-confidence, as opposed to undermining and marginalizing it still further. Particularly if our elite technocrats are as territorially unrooted (and by implication as uncivic-minded) as you describe them. And personally I have no reason to believe they’re not.
In any case, whatever “leaven of social conscience” the technocratic elites themselves still possess may, in our times, have become so globally “diluted” as to be well-nigh useless in serving local populations. But if so, then might not your upper middle classes’ own “leaven” be better employed by joining with – and more deeply investing in – those same “local communities” you mentioned in par. 4?
Now if only we could repeal one of the biggest legacies the Progressives have given us.
DRUG WAR = BIG GOVERNMENT
There are two fundamental problems for the Democrats.
1 Most adults in our society want to be treated as adults and demand the respect due to them as adults. Pelosi et al talk down to people in a way that simply is intolerable. If they would admit that they are, at heart, socialists most people would respect that even if they didn’t agree with socialist doctrine. Instead, they lie through their teeth about what their political aims really are, giving explanations for their actions that any child could see right through. They simply lack respect for the intelligence of the average American.
2 I quote Greenberg from above “Government rushes to help the irresponsible and does little for the responsible”. Helping the irresponsible is what government is for. We may wish that government would give them a good kick in the butt occasionally, but we do understand that the irresponsible need help. Government does little for the responsible and that is the way it should be. Responsible people shouldn’t need help on a permanent basis. Its what the government DOES to the responsible that gets everyone’s goat. High taxes to pay for corporate welfare, overpaid government workers, endless “jobs” programs disguised as the military, the post office, aid programs etc. High levels of regulation on the private sector that cost even more money and destroys jobs. Endless arcane criminal and civils codes (read: the tax code)that cost businesses and professionals hundreds if not thousands a year to comply with.
I could go on for days. My advice: start by tossing all the little busybodies in the party, then, help those who need it, cut taxes and leave the rest of us alone. Follow this advice and democrats would win every election from here to eternity.
I don’t know if this will get read at all, seeing as the last comment on this particular post is three days old, but oh well, might as well try.
People need to understand that this isn’t a problem with ‘Democrats’. You can elect as many Republicans as you want and it won’t fix all our problems, and many of those problems that are fixed will re-surface in the future in the same or different forms. Liberty and prosperity are things that are always under threat, things that can be taken away in an instant. Freedom must be EARNED and part of the process of earning it is learning that politics is really about more than just Republicans and Democrats. In order to earn freedom, you need to show and use the awareness, the capacity to learn the details and the complex twists of reality that govern politics.
Tom Kinney’s post is good because it shows some of this awareness. Progressives aren’t some ultimate evil and, while I’m sure PLENTY of progressives fit the mold spelled out in Mead’s post of being the type of elitist ivory tower intellectual that people have been railing against more or less since there have been progressives, many really are just decent people who want to help others and believe the government is the best way to do it.
This is true, just like it’s true that most conservatives and libertarians are just decent, normal folk looking to build a better world for themselves, their families, and their communities. But, just like it’s true that many progressives (especially progressives in places of power) are elitists who want nothing but to rule over others (ostensibly ‘for their own good’), there are a great many conservative people in positions of power who want pretty much the same thing. Even if both of these groups are well intentioned (for sure not all of them are), they all suffer from the same issue of power.
If you succeed, if you throw the progressives out, if you take all their power away and let them wander the desert, then you will still be left with the conservatives. They will be no more trustworthy than the progressives, even if they continue to spout the correct rhetoric to win your vote every couple years. The same sharks that sought the corruption of the progressive establishment will circle around the new conservative establishment, seeking to corrupt anew.
Such is the nature of all powerful institutions. Such is the nature of power itself, as the old saying goes. Even if you succeed in decentralizing power as far as possible, even if you succeed in drawing the Federal government back and pealing powers away from the state governments into the cities and townships and boroughs, the sharks will then just start there. After all, that is what happened to begin with: The progressives did not come out of no where. Crony capitalists, patronage seekers and dispensers, every kind of evil, under-handed dealer had long infiltrated the municipalities and states and even the Federal government by the end of the 19th century. The Progressive Movement was a necessary democratic reaction to this problem. The mistake the progressives made was not anticipating the corruption of their own institutions, not understanding (as the Founders did, in one of their most wise turns of politic) that the country would not always be ruled by men as virtuous and wise as they.
Conservatives must anticipate their own corruption. If we are to remain a nation of free human beings, we must build more democratically robust political institutions, root the nature of power in this country as securely as possible in the widest available political circle: The people themselves. The Founders, in one of their less wise turns of politic, were too afraid of democracy to do this, and Americans have been suffering for it ever since; first, under the crony capitalists and slavers of the 19th century, then, under the progressives of today. With the return of Jacksonian populism, but without the slave-owning planter class to rely on for our source of difficult to corrupt politicians and administrators, Americans must learn to be their own source of virtue in the face of corruption. We must learn to run our own institutions, instead of depending on the people we get to elect every few years to do it for us.
If freedom and capitalism go together, we must all learn to be capitalists. If freedom and democracy go together, we must all learn to be politicians. If we want to keep either pair, we must be good enough men and women to not generate a need for big government. Take care of your neighbors, so they do not decide they need a government handout. Learn to defend yourself and others, so people do not come to believe that we need a paramilitary police force to control our neighborhoods. Give generously to charities, so that entire communities do not fall into poverty and start demanding relief.
Do a million other things that become the duty of freemen, because if you don’t you are going to lose that freedom.
As a libertarian evangelical Catholic grandson of a social gospel-ing Episcopalian priest candidate for NYC Assemblyman in the 1920s on the Socialst ticket, I have spent a great deal of time trying to understand how and why smart men like my grandfather could believe all they do believe.
In the case of the second generation, those that came to maturity around the Great War, it is somewhat explained in that the new ideas had hardly been tried. Bold prescriptions for the ills of industrial society found an audience, much as Hope and Change appealed broadly in 2008 to U.S. voters. In the case of the current generation, it is clear that a century’s evidence indicates the prescriptions are not only insufficient to the problem but are in fact injurious to humanity. Rather than scour the ruling classes of wickedness, leftist programs tried around the globe have institutionalized wicked ruling classes. Those societies most removed from active Christian practice revealed most clearly the depravity potential of a Progressive regime: the atheistic Communist governments of the USSR, China, the National Socialists, and the Khmer Rouge piled up bodies at a horrific rate. De-Christianized Europe and radicalized Muslim governments lagged well behind in total body counts, but in both cases the declaration of noble ends justified overt and subtle means of repression. The leftists of America announced a revolutionary program at the dawn of the 20th century, and it was implemented step by step over the course of 100 years with only a five year hiatus during the Coolidge Administration. Even under Ronald Reagan the Leviathan grew. Now, already a decade into the 21st century, there is no cover left for the utter ineffectiveness of Progressivism to reach its stated goals of a Kallipolis. The United States was founded by men who wittingly or not subscribed to the Thomistic/Aristotlean realism of man rather than the soaring Platonist idealism of their French contemporaries. Woodrow Wilson’s and Herbert Croly’s efforts to import a European solution failed because this country is not and never will be Europe. Rather than noble ideals, it is now apparent Progressivism trades in class envy and resentment. These sell in the short term but destroy in the long term. It is a sign of American health that Progressivism is losing its credibility, as Americans reclaim liberty as the founding principle of the country.
I’m a U. Chicago alum and I side with the Jacksonians. A traitor to my class to be sure.
Palin makes me swoon. Politically.
Could you explain Christian Progressives like Billy Sunday to me? I don’t get how Christianity provides immunity to the Progressive impulse (we know how to run your life better than you do). In fact the Democrats have lots of strongly Christian Hispanics and Blacks. How is that possible?
Fantasy is just as strong on the Right as it is on the Left.
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