Saturday, June 20, 2009


(A reader chimed in on "I Had a Dream, Like Wow!" After acknowledging some of the positive contributions of capitalism and rich people, the reader had some unhappy comments):

Reader: However. Let's get some things clear.

Would EO actually like to state that the past eight years of conservative republican business loving government bears no responsibility for the stinking hellhole that we find ourselves in?

EO: "Stinking hellhole?" America is not Mogadishu. Yet. The Bush Administration certainly bears responsibility for what happened on its watch.

Now THAT'S a hell-hole.
by Chogra

Reader: EO strikes me as a man who sells a broken down house and laughs at the new owner for spending money to fix it.

EO: If you are arguing that all the money we are now spending by quadrupling the Bush deficits is necessary to fix the economy, that is clearly false.

The Obama administration is trying to do much more than repair plumbing leaks left over from the Bush Administration. It is taking out a whopping jumbo loan to build a shiny new 12,000 square foot mansion with 7 1/2 baths. That's the import of Rahm Emanuel's wry line about not letting a crisis go to waste.

Reader: But I digress. The "Democrats and liberals want to screw the rich" argument is crap.

EO: There are plenty of democrats and liberals who genuinely or cynically seek to gain power through generating class envy. Take, for instance, Franklin Roosevelt, who even infuriated fellow Democrats with his class warfare demagoguery.

FDR: Liberal, Episcopalian, Class Warrior

Reader: Here's what I think is the basic difference between "Conservative" and "Liberal". When liberals think about government by the people, for the people, they don't forget that second part.

EO: Liberals tend to forget that "the people" are also the ones paying the taxes.

The basic differences between liberals and conservatives don't revolve around conservatives forgetting people and liberals remembering them.

Some examples. When confronted by a social problem, liberals tend to assume that more government is the solution. This is because having government compel a change is conceptually much more direct and simple than trying to convince people to change by other means, including free market incentives.

Conservatives tend to be concerned about expanding government, since the expansion is very difficult to reverse, and often has long-term ill effects on people. Bush undercut his popularity among Conservatives by serving up big deficits and increasing government spending.

Liberals often assume that proposed governmental policies will work as intended. Conservatives tend to be concerned about unintended consequences. For instance, data suggest that well-intended welfare spending can actually harm poor people by creating economic disincentives to healthy behavior, like seeking employment or having a two-parent household.

Liberals frequently assert that conservatives who question the benefit of a proposed government program are acting from mere selfishness. But social conservatives generally give far more of their income and time to charity than liberals. This contradicts the simplistic "conservatives are selfish" theory.

Governance, for liberals, demands taking everyone into account. And I think this is why 'liberal' implies 'change'. When everyone in the jurisdiction is pretty much the same (white farmers in the 18th century, let's say), government is fairly simple. Everyone pretty much agrees about the basics. Same morals, same outlook, same religion. But when you start getting some plurality things start to get messy.

Governance was not "fairly simple" in the 18th century. Things were very messy during the Revolutionary War. We fought a Civil War in the 19th century - things were even messier, as in 500,000 dead messy. Disagreements abounded.

Civil War Dead, by tomsaint11

Human society is normally messy. One of the drivers behind liberal social philosophy is an effort to smooth the "messiness" of plurality and freedom. The chosen method is to increase government involvement in the affairs of citizens for the purpose of ordering the "messes."

This can be a noble goal, but it often makes the messes worse, not better. Think Mao's "Great Leap Forward" or Johnson's Great Society, neither of which came close to their intended goals, but cost hundreds of billions. In Mao's case, it also cost tens of millions of lives. Liberals often ignore or deny these consequences and simply move on to bigger "fixes."

Chairman Mao, by Andy Warhol.
Big Killer Liberal.

I think the current administration's fixes are well intended. I also think they will have a variety of rotten, unintended but perfectly foreseeable outcomes that will overwhelm the good intentions.

A liberal insists, annoyingly, on trying to take everybody into account; a conservative says let's keep the way we've been doing it.

Liberals didn't lose power in the 1990s because they were "annoying." They lost power because they had a long history of taking "everybody into account" by pouring taxpayer money into hugely expensive and well-intended programs that were failing. This was harmful, especially to poor and middle class people.

Reagan was popular because he sought to change the liberal status quo, not preserve it.

Ron Reagan, annoying conservative.

Liberals will now have 8 years or more to demonstrate to America that their policies are effective. If the policies fail, liberals will be voted out of office, not because Americans are "annoyed" but because liberal policies failed.

Right now I am alarmed at the "mortgage payments" on the new 12,000 s.f. mansion Obama proposes to build. I am concerned the country will wind up like Argentina. I don't think running up ruinous debt takes "everybody into account," and especially not the poor people in whose name this mansion is being built.

The liberal message is hard to get across because doing liberal things (that is, trying to take everyone into account, not just the ones with the money) is complicated. Liberalism guarantees complexity.

The liberal message is actually very easy to get across, because it is fundamentally simplistic: everyone should be taken care of, and the best way to do it is have government do it directly. Liberalism as currently practiced is actually an effort to simplify society, which is painfully complex when left on its own. Obama got the message across very well. Al Gore and John Kerry were just lousy communicators.

John Kerry and America:
"What we have here is a failure to communicate."

Conservatism is simple. If it ain't broke don't fix it! Except, oops, we're talking about the economy, which is.. umm... broken. And was broken by, yes, conservatives.

Umm, broken? Nah. The Obama White House recently said the economy is in fundamentally good condition. Doesn't sound broken.

If you are talking about the sub-prime mortgage crisis, that is an excellent example of well-intended social programming gone very wrong.

Sub-prime lending had its genesis in the 1990s as a liberal social policy that sought to enlist private lenders in supplying money to people who couldn't afford standard mortgages. Bill Clinton and other democrats pushed the program through a combination of carrots - like Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae buying up sub-prime loans, and the Federal Reserve loosening lending standards - and sticks, like the Justice Department opening investigations on banks that didn't make sub-prime loans.

The fact that the Bush Administration grew fond of this particular pet alligator because it stimulated growth in the housing sector does them no credit.

Pet Alligator, by Judy Goreland

By 2005 Bush was trying to put more stringent controls on the program because of concerns about the viability of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. He was harangued by the likes of Barnie Frank and Chris Dodd, among other liberals, as a heartless bum out to hurt poor people, and Democrats managed to defeat the effort to cage the alligator.

Barney Frank, annoying liberal.
Guardian of sub-prime lending.

Bottom line: lots of poor people are now being crushed by the consequences of a program originally intended to benefit them.

Now we are going to "fix" the problem by quadrupling the annual federal deficit, and along the way the government will buy up a big chunk of the car industry and the health care industry.

The Bush deficits were a bad idea. Quadrupling the Bush deficits is also a bad idea, however nobly the money will be spent.

So EO, I envy you your simplicity. But if you don't have any ideas about how to fix things,

I have lots of ideas. No one listens. Ah me.

please stand aside and let the work begin.

The baton is in your hand, sir. Go forth and do good.

Now it is time to listen to "Trouble," from the Music Man, about a charming and eloquent huckster who convinces people to engage in massive social spending.

Everything works out well in the end, which is what EO hopes for America.


  1. Dear EO,
    I ask tongue in cheek what does the goevernment do better , quicker and cheaper then private industry?
    Do we really think health care run by the goverment will be better ,quicker and cheaper.

  2. As the poster referred to I regret my unfortunate implication that 'Democrat' and 'liberal' as one and the same, just as I'm sure EO would not want his conservative principles to be solely judged on our Republican representatives.

    I have done a bit of research on the topics we have been discussing and I have learned exactly one thing: one can find hard facts and careful analyses to support anything one wants to say. I also have learned that very few minds are changed by harangues from the other side. So I'm going to start again, in a different vein.

    There are two things in particular I object to in some of EO's blog entries. First, the (perhaps implicit here, very explicit in Republican politics) making of the word 'liberal' into the equivalent of 'evil idiot.' I am defending the liberal point of view, not the Democratic party. Liberalism, i.e. "liberty-ism" is a response to the imperative of inclusiveness, of removing barriers that keep one group in power to the exclusion and/or detriment of others. Liberalism freed the slaves, won women the right to vote, ended child labor, brought vast and innumerable improvements to working conditions everywhere, provided education to all, and ended segregation and Jim Crow, to name just a few. All of which, I believe, were opposed bitterly by the conservatives and free-marketers of their day. The liberal urge, briefly, is to seek justice. There is no question that this urge can go too far, and I'll gladly agree with a hundred examples you may list where it has. But Liberalism itself is nothing to mock; it is the compassion that has set us all free.

    Second, the way in which I see Republicans (not necessarily conservatives) frantically shifting blame onto the Obama administration in the same way that they shoveled blame back on President Clinton. I, along with many many people, believe that the last Bush administration was a catastrophe. It ended with the largest corporate failures the country has ever seen, foreclosures and job losses at unheard of levels, the country entangled in foreign wars, at least one of which was founded on lies and waged without a plan, civil rights in tatters, and the world turning its back on America. All that is really beyond debate. So I think the Republicans ought to shut up and let the other guys drive for a while instead of spouting smug, self-righteous invective about how stupid Democratic policies are and what we should really be doing (apparently) is keep waiting for things to fix themselves.

    Lastly (I guess this makes three points), I think EO lets himself down a bit in invoking Mao as an example of liberalism, unless he's comfortable pointing to Hitler as a symbol of conservatism. We don't want to go there, do we?

  3. I like that dress she's wearing. That Marion was so pretty.

  4. Let's look at assumptions/premises -- "conservatism = if it ain't broke, don't fix it" ....

    Well, maybe, maybe not.

    I would rather say that conservatism is about the struggle on earth against despotism, and so its first reflex is not to keep things as they are, but to protect man's ability to live in freedom.

    Thus, one starts at the smallest level (the family) and works outwards (through the community and the state), if necessary (the federal government last of all, unless, God help us, we have some sort of world regime)-- what the Church calls subsidiarity -- a hard principle to put into words, but one to live by.

    Bush forfeited this claim to conservatism at its most fundamental.

    You are right, EO, in what you say about liberals and conservatives and unintended consequences. This is the least understood part of policy: trying to learn from the past what to expect in the "unexpected" department, especially when it involves people's freedom and welfare.

    Conservatives today are in the poor position of having to respond to a false dichotomy, with Bush as the exemplar of one of the sides.

    You notice that the Obama people are desperately looking for Bush, because he makes their guy look better, for sure.

    The difference is that Bush unintentionally and inefficiently facilitated the road to despotism. Obama runs ahead to make sure the way is smooth, and smilingly bribes us to get there.

    (You might be interested in this long book review by Mark Steyn of what might otherwise take quite a course of study to articulate:)

  5. Update 12/5/2011: "Liberals will now have 8 years or more to demonstrate to America that their policies are effective. If the policies fail, liberals will be voted out of office, not because Americans are "annoyed" but because liberal policies failed."

    Maybe not 8 years. We'll see.