Friday, August 31, 2012

"You and Your Family"

You always want to go to Rush Limbaugh to get your gut check on the previous day in politics.  Love him or hate him, Rush is the man with the golden gut.  And his analysis is that the core of Mitt Romney's acceptance speech at the 2012 Republican National Convention was this memorable line:
President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.
It deals very neatly with the central delusion at the heart of modern liberalism: we've got the social problem licked and now it is time to move on to bigger things.  All this, remember, while the whole "blue social model" is collapsing everywhere from Athens to LA.

All in all, the Republican National Convention was a success and showed us how the Romney campaign will be fighting the election.  It will be hope and change, based on Mitt's leadership, judgment and ability.  Against the proven incompetence of Barack Obama, who did the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong way, i.e., the opposite of Aristotelian virtue.

Of course.  There are only two campaign themes.  There is "Four More Years" and there is "Hope and Change."  Everything else is just a detail.

But what bothers me is the central promise of modern politics: to help you and your family.  This is the basic "lie agreed upon" in modern life.  It is the idea that the big remote central government can stand ready to help you and your family.

Reality is something different.

Big government cannot help you and your family.  It can stabilize the credit system with Dutch finance.  It can build big bureaucratic programs that slosh money around, and that you can exploit for your own benefit.  It can, in emergency, mobilize to get food and supplies to you, although Walmart did that better after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Here's how Big Daddy can really help you and your family.  It's the story of Mitt Romney, Mormon church elder helping a family after a devastating automobile accident.  Andrew Ferguson tells the story.
I was struck by the story of a Mormon family called (unfortunately) Nixon. In the 1990s a car wreck rendered two of their boys quadriplegics. Drained financially from extraordinary expenses, Mr. Nixon got a call from Romney, whom he barely knew, asking if he could stop by on Christmas Eve. When the day came, all the Romneys arrived bearing presents, including a VCR and a new sound system the Romney boys set up. Later Romney told Nixon that he could take care of the children’s college tuition, which in the end proved unnecessary. “I knew how busy he was,” Nixon told the authors. “He was actually teaching his boys, saying, ‘This is what we do. We do this as a family.’ ”
It's not the same thing when government gives you an unemployment check after you have lost your job.  The politician is not coming round to your house to give you a hand. Not with his money, he ain't.

I've been hammering on the theme of "confiscation" in recent days.  What I really mean by that is exactly what liberals do and what Mitt Romney was promising in his speech: government that helps you and your family.  The problem is that it is the job of civil society to help you and your family.  The way that society works is that people help each other, and community leaders help more than most.  Every single thing that government "confiscates" is a string snipped out of that social safety web.

It is a fallacy and a delusion to believe that "helping" ever happens outside of the face-to-face society of family, friends, neighbors, and church members.

In the old days, in hunter-gatherer society, the whole of society was face to face.  So you relied on your fellow tribesmen and women to help you in need.  But the basic fact of modern society is that huge sectors are removed from face-to-face relationships and are organized not on a relationship basis but on a systems basis.  Thus Habermas talks about "steering media" like money that direct human behavior.  Instead of exchanging goods and services through face-to-face conversation, people do it by the hands-off exchange of money and markets.

The same thing applies to politics.  Politicians affect the conversation of the town meeting, the assembly of the whole community.  But they are really doing something else.  Modern politics is a spectator sport.  The voters sit in the stands experiencing the game vicariously while the professionals duke it out on the playing field.  President Obama's team playbook emphasizes fairness and sharing.  Governor Romney's team playbook emphasizes individuals striving to lift their families up.  When the game is over the spectators go to their voting booths and vote for the team of their choice.  To say that such a combat is "social" in the way that discussing tribal affairs over a camp-fire is social is to live in a dream world.

We can never go back to the community of the hunter-gatherer.  The Garden of Eden is gone forever.   Our world is much more complex.  We must learn to operate the levers of modern technology, from money and credit to power tools.  Yet, as James C. Scott has written, the world cannot operate as a pure mechanical system.  Humans still interact face to face, and it is the face-to-face communication that acts as the vital lubrication that makes the whole system work.  Great powerful automated systems are amazing.  But you still need the human touch to set it up, and apply a nudge and a check every so often.

That's the way to really "help you and your family."  Could we ever get a government with the wisdom to stand back and let us all get on with it?

No comments:

Post a Comment