You know, if Brooksie is this upset, Obama must be doin' somethin' right
Call me what you will -- naive, blindsided, gobsmacked, overcome, a turncoat, whatever -- if David Brooks, the New York times pundit, can be all "they don't know enough to do this much" a month into the new administration -- I can be thrilled.
Over the years, I have come to see that Burke had a point. The political history of the 20th century is the history of social-engineering projects executed by well-intentioned people that began well and ended badly. There were big errors like communism, but also lesser ones, like a Vietnam War designed by the best and the brightest, urban renewal efforts that decimated neighborhoods, welfare policies that had the unintended effect of weakening families and development programs that left a string of white elephant projects across the world.
These experiences drove me toward the crooked timber school of public philosophy: Michael Oakeshott, Isaiah Berlin, Edward Banfield, Reinhold Niebuhr, Friedrich Hayek, Clinton Rossiter and George Orwell. These writers — some left, some right — had a sense of epistemological modesty. They knew how little we can know. They understood that we are strangers to ourselves and society is an immeasurably complex organism. They tended to be skeptical of technocratic, rationalist planning and suspicious of schemes to reorganize society from the top down.
Before long, I was no longer a liberal. Liberals are more optimistic about the capacity of individual reason and the government’s ability to execute transformational change. They have more faith in the power of social science, macroeconomic models and 10-point programs.
Well, David, the last eight years in particular and the last 30 in general, salted with memories of Nixon and Ford in the White House, have convinced me that everything you're afraid of is exactly what we need, my man.
Oh, and did you bother to really examine what went wrong with those "best and brightest" notions?
No -- you're too dedicated to the virtues of the last 30 years' inbred Beltway mindset.
Yet they set off my Burkean alarm bells. I fear that in trying to do everything at once, they will do nothing well. I fear that we have a group of people who haven’t even learned to use their new phone system trying to redesign half the U.S. economy. I fear they are going to try to undertake the biggest administrative challenge in American history while refusing to hire the people who can help the most: agency veterans who are registered lobbyists.
I worry that we’re operating far beyond our economic knowledge. Every time the administration releases an initiative, I read 20 different economists with 20 different opinions. I worry that we lack the political structures to regain fiscal control. Deficits are exploding, and the president clearly wants to restrain them. But there’s no evidence that Democrats and Republicans in Congress have the courage or the mutual trust required to share the blame when taxes have to rise and benefits have to be cut.
All in all, I can see why the markets are nervous and dropping. And it’s also clear that we’re on the cusp of the biggest political experiment of our lifetimes. If Obama is mostly successful, then the epistemological skepticism natural to conservatives will have been discredited. We will know that highly trained government experts are capable of quickly designing and executing top-down transformational change. If they mostly fail, then liberalism will suffer a grievous blow, and conservatives will be called upon to restore order and sanity.
It’ll be interesting to see who’s right. But I can’t even root for my own vindication. The costs are too high. I have to go to the keyboard each morning hoping Barack Obama is going to prove me wrong.
Getting rid of the lobbyists is step one. Stamping out that loathesome profession ought to be step two, but what the hell; I can wait until national unemployment is below 3% again, and we have single-payer healthcare available to every person in the US regardless of citizenship (a la the RHS model you conservatives disdain so wholeheartedly).
Because, you see, David, what's been done over the last 30 years has not worked.
The definition of insanity is repeating behavior and expecting different results.
I personally don't care whether Obama and the West Wing troops can use the (probably outmoded, contracted-to-a-Bush-crony) telephone system. I figure if they're smart they'll get out of their chairs, step across or down the hall, and talk to each other face to face -- and do the same with the people who do have ideas on how to fix the mess conservatives created, with the help of voices like yours, David.