Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Great Breaking

Today we experienced the culmination of the "culture wars." For nearly 30 years we have seen prudent and thoughtful persons rejected from office because they were on the wrong side of 'guns, god, and gays.' We have seen a Republican party revolt in this time, with the ignorance over prudence crowd toppling the prudence over poverty crowd. Now, we will all be seen as both ignorant and impoverished. The Democratic party has little to be proud of in this moment of national failure. For these same 30 years, Democrats have mismanaged and fumbled their way through an attempt at combating their revolting counter-party. More often than not they submitted, supine, uncertain of what just happened. Election after election, principle after principle, the Democratic Party continued losing the same battles as its 'enemy' morphed and warped into what we are left with today.

Alas, today was about the revolt of 'teh dumb' of the past 30 years and the national failure we are left with. We have seen the effects of the culture war, and they are real. We have failed, as a citizenry, to properly and meaningfully vet our candidates for national office. We were pleased and comforted by their hollow, wooey, spiritual talk about souls, spirits, and sprites. We became single issue voters in many geographic areas, such that some lip service to abortion and Jeebus was sufficient to hold office. All the while, worthy candidates, who had studied the issues, who had complex understandings of the world, and who had difficulty reducing that complexity into "3 word answers" were passed over. Often, in all the brilliance of our contemporary system, such candidates were passed over before they ever got to run. They were deemed too effete, possibly unpatriotic, and definitely people "we" would shy away from "having a beer with."

Today, we witnessed the calamitous result. There were many reasons to oppose the operative details of this bailout plan. Some of these reasons were discussed here, on this blog. People far better versed on the topic discussed the complexities, benefits, and pitfalls of the plan at places like RGEMonitor, Naked Capitalism, Clusterstock, and elsewhere. Such reasons were never a matter of populist bullshit, and always a matter of asking the quesiton, "what is the most effective way to right this ship?" The legislators' show today demonstrated their lack of interest in effective, technocratic governance. Today, they demonstrated their total unpreparedness for the offices they hold.

The people who voted against today's bill did not raise any of the technical problems with the proposed bailout. We did not expect them to, they are not financiers. Rather, the people who voted against the bill failed to understand their roles as legislators. We did expect them to raise meaningful and insightful questions about the civics, philosophical nature, and political economy of the bailout. They did not. They are failures; we are failures.

For 30 or so years, the nation has been convinced that the 'whiz kids' of finance have made a system so complex, legislators cannot possibly begin to understand it. In part, this is because we, as a nation, have peddled a self-perpetuating myth that those in government cannot possibly understand anything at all, and we should not expect them to. In part, this is becasue of a broader trend of deference to the complicated, as the world becomes more specialized peole are more easily glazed over about the details of finance, genetics, information technology, or any other keynote contemporary field of study. We see the results of this phenomenon with credit-default swaps, stem cell research, net neutrality, and other ares of national importance.

Resultantly, today's elected officials have failed to recognize that even if this system is absurdly complex (it is not); They do not need to understand its operative details in order to understand their strategic role as legislators and their forces of authority upon it. They were assigned to uphold and protect the Constitution and citizenry of the United States. Prior legislators knew they did not need to comprehend particle physics to comprehend the Cold War. Prior legislators knew they did not need to comprehend effluvial dynamics to comprehend canal infrastructure's necessity to the national well being. Prior legislators knew they did not need to comprehend the complexities of environmental science to set aside public land for the national good. Yet, these legislators could not fathom that their ignorance of contemporary finance did not place a significant limit on their necessity to be effective administrators of the national well-being.

Comfort in dealing with the unknown grows from a confidence of having dealt with the known. The happy, prideful bipartisan know-nothings who make up today's legislators lack the self-confidence of the learned to face down the smart kids in the class. They did not have a role in understanding contemporary finance, they had a role in understanding civics. Yet, after 30 years of being bashed over the head with, 'the only thing you need to know about markets, is that less regulation is better regulation, money flows from rich to poor, and every tax cut is a good tax cut,' the legislators we are left with are irreperably harmed. I may be too young to remember such a time, but I know that an age of competence, prudence, and dilligence once existed (even if in part).

We are most certainly no longer in that age, and the self-reinforcing dumbditude has set in. It is extraordinarily difficult to remove 'teh dumb' once it has set in, and it does not benefit anyone. No one. At one point, it was thought that 'teh dumb' serves the interests of the wealthy and well connected. Ronald Reagan built the contemporary Republican party on this concept: the dumb for the wealthy! And it worked, for a time. Today, we may have seen where it breaks. The party of the wealthy and well connected does not fulfill its mission statement if it's full of know-nothing, fundagelicals, who, at the end of the day do not deliver for the wealthy and well-connected.

The point, of course, is that we have failed ourselves as a nation, and religiously motivated anti-intellectual nit-wits have led the way. We are now all in the balance, awaiting to see if we may pull ourselves out without irreperable losses. May we fight to never allow the pridefully ignorant into power ever again.



  1. " . . .this is becasue of a broader trend of deference to the complicated . . ."

    I love nominalizing adjectives. Seriously, I really do. So did Strauss.

  2. I share your frustration, and share your disappointment with both sides of the aisle, each of which failed the put the urgent before what each perceived as the important. (How's that for nominalizing adjectives!) You do, however, place undue blame on one side. It's neither true nor consistent with your thesis that nearly all legislators, because not enough citizens, are competent. That's a thesis with which I agree.


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