Friday, October 26, 2012

Obama and the Liberal Bubble

We've had the real-estate bubble and now eager trend-spotters are tracking the higher-education bubble.  Nothing remarkable about either one, of course.  In the real-estate bubble we had government cheap credit chasing real-estate prices chasing more government-sponsored cheap credit.  In the higher-ed bubble we had something completely different.  We had government grants and student loans chasing higher tuition rates chasing higher grants and loans.

Walter Russell Mead has a piece today about the decline of liberalism, epitomized by the disaster of Illinois state finances.
Three states form the base of Democratic political power in the United States: California, New York and Illinois. All three states are locked in an accelerating economic, demographic and social decline; all three hope that they can stave off looming disaster at home by exporting the policies that have ruined them to the rest of the country.
He writes about the "misery and ruin that well-intentioned liberals combined with aggressive public sector labor unions inflict on the poor they ostensibly want to serve."

I think it is time to start talking about the end of the liberal bubble.  And, in a proof that God has a sense of humor, He sends us Barack Obama as the poster boy of everything that is inflated and bubbl-icious about liberalism.

The liberal bubble was borne aloft on three liberal conceits.  The first was the Enlightenment conceit that we can learn everything we need about the world from science and reason.  Thus you could create rational, scientific government programs to solve the problems of the world with a centralized administrative government bureaucracy supported by credentialed academic experts.

The second conceit was the idea that liberals were the heavy lifters in the civil rights revolution of the 1950s and 1960s.  There's no doubt that liberals did work hard to push civil rights, particularly given the fact that the opponents of civil rights were in their own party.  But I would argue that the self-congratulations have been rather overdone.  For instance, why was it necessary to brand Barry Goldwater as a racist?  Here was a man that desegregated the Arizona Air National Guard before it was popular.  Why did he vote against the Civil Rights Act 1964?  Because he was a libertarian and thought the act gave the government too much power.

The third conceit was the liberal crusade against the Vietnam War and against the Cold War in general. Liberals conflated their opposition to the war with a distaste for the nation state and patriotism.  They lived above all that, working for Peace.

Liberal faith in their conceits led them to think that they were more than a ruling class with the normal vices of a ruling class, but something special. If they believed in God they would be anchoring their faith in their own superiority in divine guidance.  As it was they just believed that they were the culmination of human progress and enlightenment.  And they still do.

The ancient Greeks had a word for this sort of thing.  They called it: hubris.

Liberal hubris after the civil rights revolution led them into the racism of quotas, affirmative action, and diversity, and so they led African Americans into a hell-hole of black racism.  The fact is that we all like our own kind best, and we need the constant encouragement of moral leaders to remind us to be fair and honorable to the "other."  Liberals bang on endlessly about this.  Pity they didn't apply it to themselves and their clients.

Liberal hubris after the Great Society programs for health care and the war on poverty prevented them from being honest with themselves about the failures of centralized administrative government, and so, again and again, they reinforced failure and called their critics racists and mean-spirited.

Liberal hubris about Vietnam and the Cold War has led to the disaster of the Arab Spring and Benghazi.  That's because liberals believe in the Marxist idea of neo-colonialism, that the West oppresses and exploits the developing nations of the world.  The grain of truth in their analysis is that, of course, modern western capitalism has swept across the world like a divine wind, destroying all the old traditional agricultural cultures.  But there was never a cunning plan to reduce the rest of the world to peonage.

The French philosopher-statesman Luc Ferry writes in A Brief History of Thought that we need to get beyond the Enlightenment and its rational faith, beyond Nietzsche and his deconstruction of the idols, beyond the materialism that many profess for others but not for themselves.  We have to admit that, after we have thrown away all the gods and the modern idols there is still an irreducible core of something: e.g., the disgust of seeing someone lynched.  I would call it our irreducible human sociability.  It is something beyond material, something beyond advantage: call it self-consciousness.

I would call that something "modern conservatism."  But first we have to deal with the decline and collapse of liberalism, epitomized by President Obama, who Peggy Noonan describes as "a president who is at once over his head, out of his depth and wholly unaware of the fact."

America's big problem is that the same can be said of liberals in general.

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