Sunday, November 30, 2003

Pogo Was Right

My friend Tom and I agree on any number of things, but we disagree on a few. Actually, most of the things we disagree on are just a matter of scale. We both belong to the NRA... life members. We're both Republicans (my grandmother, who believed that FDR walked on water, just did a backflip in her grave). We're both educated guys and fairly successful in the money wars of the middle class. So... what's the problem?

Well, I'm sure that the problem is mine, not his. For a long time I have been uncomfortable with the way the breeze has been blowing through the bushes. I didn't like the fact that Nixon was in the burglary business. How did he get so far away from any central assumptions of honesty? Hell, he was the President (with deliberate capitalization) for Christ's sake! Heck, I wanted to vote for him... mostly because I thought then and I still think that Henry Kissinger is the definition of a heavy hitter.

And I didn't like the fact that Kennedy and his brother were humping Marilyn Monroe. OK... happy birthday Mr. President. But why did those guys have to act like a couple of arrogant prep school boys handing around a cheerleader in the back of the school bus? Well, the reason they acted that way was because that was the way they actually were. They were arrogant and elitist, monied snobs and insufferable coxcombs. But in spite of all that Jack was elected and is still part of the mythology of America. I wanted to like him because I thought his wife was a classy babe and deserved better. I feel the same way about our current president's mom. Very classy lady. And we all know that it's actually the women who run things. Right?

I didn't like the fact that we actually elected a lizard like Bill Clinton to the office. I don't particularly care that the guy was a whore dog... heck, I've been accused of that myself... but I didn't like the fact that he was willing to write his legacy with his pecker and rub the whole world's nose in it. The only image I can recall of the man's presidency is that big stain on the front of Monica's dress. First of all, it was huge! Did he come on her or piss on her? And why did the dizzy bitch save the dress? Was that something she was proud of? Look Mom... I saved the jizz of the President of the United States. Wanta smell? Is that all there is? I guess so. But he was the capital letter P President... symbolic leader... and we all voted for him. At least enough of us did that he got the chance to abuse the office. That shudder you feel is the collective revulsion of a whole generation. And Mrs. Clinton allowed that vulgarity. She gave it house room. Sanction. All that tells me is that she is more dangerous than he was. What hunger, what brutal exercise of power, what force of will is required to condone that fall from grace? Does she honestly believe that we will see her as the victim when she stayed with the guy and continues to practice the art of politics with Bill because he is the only show she can dance in? Yikes!

Also, I don't like the fact that tuba players at Jones High School in Orlando don't have to have a C average to play in the Macy's Thanksgiving parade. There were nine high schools invited to march in the 2003 parade. It's a big deal because it was on national TV. The principal of the F-graded school established the rule that if you didn't have a passing GPA you couldn't participate in any extra-curricular activities. That's a fairly standard rule, I think, in most schools. If you're flunking you don't have time to go all the way to New York. You need the time to study for your FCAT. Right? Well.... Jones is the traditional black school in Orlando and a third (yikes!) of the band was not passing. The black mothers of the black band members protested the rule. They have a right to march! They are being discriminated against! The school board crumbled and gave in and did not back up the principal. The flunking band members went to New York and the whole country saw that you don't need passing grades so long as you're black. Really? The other eight schools marching had to have passing grades, but not Jones. Why? Well, because they are black and should not be held to any kind of recognizable standard. Do we really believe that? What we're really saying is that black kids don't matter, right? Do what ever you want... you guys don't count anyhow. Heck, you're not even the leading minority anymore. There are more hispanics now than blacks. I wonder if they have a band. But wait... do they have entitlements? Maybe not.

I read an excellent article by Bryan Caplan the other day: Mises and Bastiat on How Democracy Goes Wrong.The question addressed by Caplan is -- How can majoritarian politics durably sustain policies harmful to majority interests? Of course, both Mises and Bastiat were the architects of all that supply side thinking that stands on the other side in opposition to Keynes. Ah... a dichotomy. Hegel rears his ugly head.

Bastiat once said that "Public opinion, whether enlightened or misguided, is nonetheless mistress of the world." Of course, that's true. But is it right? That's a separate question, isn't it. The fact that Kennedy and Clinton were electable means that they acted as conduits of public opinion. The fact that a group of academic failures can humble a community leader like the principal of Jones High School is not right, but it is a fact and no amount of carping on my part will change that.

Bastait believed that the public was guilty of what he called "broken window" thinking, that they ignored opportunity costs. They want to maintain a large army because they don't want unemployed soldiers roaming the streets. They want protectionism because they don't want to give up jobs to foreigners. He says that "When one of these fundamental errors... becomes firmly established as a conventional judgement, unquestionably accepted and agreed to by everyone, it tends to proceed from theory into practice, from thought to action."

You have to admit that most of our politicians are secretly Keynesian. Mr. Bush is a political conservative because talk radio says he is. But he is the guy who has just pushed through the largest increase in governmental spending since the New Deal... a new and improved Medicaid/Medicare complete with a free for all drug store attached. Give them what they want! They've got a right to all the free stuff! That begs the question: is there such a thing as a conservative Keynesian? You betcha. How did that happen? Well, we want the government to pay for all this stuff. We... want this. But at the same time we all want to agree with Mises and Bastiat that majoritarian issues are not necessarily the "right" thing. What I heard Trent Lott say this morning on TV is that our grandchildren will have to pay for all these "free" programs. Excuse me while I go get my lovely daughter to agree to stay on the pill for a while... at least until one of us can win the lottery and make taxation a moot issue for us.

Bastiat said that "Protectionism is too popular for its adherents to be regarded as insincere. If the majority had faith in free trade, we should have free trade." True. If we wanted to help our grandparents get help at the drugstore we would open up an account for them down at Eckerds and pay the bill when it came due. But we don't want to pay. We want the government to pay. And we are willing to saddle our grandchildren with the debt. Really? Well, no... not really. But I suspect that most of us don't really believe that we will ever have to pay. Most of us believe that our world will end before any final accounting can be done.

That's another one of those dichotomies, isn't it? The duality between our heads and our hearts that Rebecca West described so elegantly in her Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: Only part of us is sane. Only part of us believes that we can die at home in bed in a house that we built with our own hands, surrounded by people who love us and grieve our passing. The other part wants to burn down the house so that we are left in blackened ashes surrounded by desolation, alone, and beyond the responsibility of hatred or hope. We love the science of modern medicine but hate the fact that we have to pay for it. We love the taste of success when our children are invited to play the tuba in a famous parade but hate the fact that we are forever branding them as the losers from Jones who can't win by following the rules but have to cheat to get in the parade. We are fascinated by filth, especially powerful filth, so we debase our institutions because we secretly wish that it was us who pulled back Lewinsky's hair so that we could see our tumescent selves in her mouth, pulling out just in time to see it spurt down the front of her dress. That's what power is, right? The ability to heap degradation on others, right? Do we really believe that? Only part of us does. The other part sees it as that nililistic part of us that wants to destroy every good thing in our lives. We find ourselves hating our own souls. Lincoln once said that there are two angels in our nature, and that good does not always win. Sometimes the darker angels of our nature has acendancy. Hell, we do this to ourselves.

So I still belong to the ACLU. Why? Because I believe that they are part of the Heglian dance that we all are a party to. Some of what they do will form the opposition to what needs to be opposed. Are they right all the time? Hell no. No more than Mr. Ashcroft is always wrong. We agree that most of what he is working for is agreeable to us... but not all. There is no pure dialectic. Mises said, "Democracy guarantees a system of government in accordance with the wishes and plans of the majority. But it cannot prevent majorities from falling victim to erroneous ideas and from adopting inappropriate policies which not only fail to realize the ends aimed at but result in disaster." As Caplan so aptly notes, "Bastiat anticipated the rise of socialism but Mises actually lived through it." The dialectic... the process... persists. We have painfuly learned that socialism is a mistake. So, there is no longer a USSR... just the lingering foolishness of academic marxists. But we still don't want to pay for our parent's medications. Or our children's tuba lessons.

I'm actually the only optimist in the crew. I believe that if we can continue to blunder along we will find some common ground to move towards the future. Thesis opposes antithesis and begats... synthesis. Which becomes a new proposition, or... thesis. And so the Heglian dance moves painfully forward. Somehow, my daughter will find a way to get me the medical attention I'll need in my dotage (a rapidly approaching certainty). And I'm sure that just because the principal of Jones High lost this round he will ultimately win the war because what all those politically correct mommies really want is educated children. Black or white or brown or whatever they are tomorrow.

Who said the culture war was unwinnable?