Hoping For A Shutdown?

Howard Dean should be careful what he wishes for.

In general, I’ve never been impressed by Howard Dean’s political perspicacity, and I agree with this:

“This isn’t 1995,” Weber said. “Obama is not Clinton; Boehner isn’t Gingrich.”

There’s something else about it not being 1995 that matters. A lot of the blame on the Republicans was driven by the media, which was still in shock and angry that their political party had been repudiated at the polls (remember the late Peter Jennings’ comment about it being a “temper tantrum” of a “two-year old”?). As I was mentioning to someone on the phone this morning when the topic of a shutdown came up, Fox News didn’t exist in 1995. Neither did the non-leftist blogosphere. They won’t have a free-fire zone to shape the narrative this time. If the Senate holds up a budget, or the president refuses to sign one, over a few billion dollars in budget cuts, when the public is pretty clearly much more concerned about spending levels now than they were then, it will be a lot harder to get the public, and particularly the independents, to blame the Republicans.

Social Security

…and the Democrats’ irresponsibility:

So, if we’re to believe Team Obama, the 2011 version of Jack Lew, and Harry Reid — who doesn’t see a need to deal with Social Security for 20 years — a government whose nonpublic debt is projected to be within a whisker of what many experts believe is the code-red level of 90% of GDP in 10 years is automatically going to be able to continue to fund Social Security’s cash deficits for the next 26 years. Horse manure.

These people know the truth, and they’re deliberately dodging it. They’re cynically hoping to ride a wave of ginned-up opposition to any and all entitlement reform in hopes of getting across the finish line in the 2012 elections. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a more cynical strategy on a problem so important in my lifetime.

I hope they fail.

Me, too. But it’s who they are. It’s what they do.

Beyond The Welfare State

Yuval Levin says that the nation needs a new vision, and we don’t have a lot of time to come up with it.

[Update a few minutes later]

This explains the plight of the blacks (and to a lesser extent, some other minorities):

Human societies do not work by obeying orderly commands from central managers, however well meaning; they work through the erratic interplay of individual and, even more, of familial and communal decisions answering locally felt desires and needs. Designed to offer professional expert management, our bureaucratic institutions assume a society defined by its material needs and living more or less in stasis, and so they are often at a loss to contend with a people in constant motion and possessed of a seemingly infinite imagination for cultural and commercial innovation. The result is gross inefficiency — precisely the opposite of what the administrative state is intended to yield.

In our everyday experience, the bureaucratic state presents itself not as a benevolent provider and protector but as a corpulent behemoth — flabby, slow, and expressionless, unmoved by our concerns, demanding compliance with arcane and seemingly meaningless rules as it breathes musty air in our faces and sends us to the back of the line. Largely free of competition, most administrative agencies do not have to answer directly to public preferences, and so have developed in ways that make their own operations easier (or their own employees more contented) but that grow increasingly distant from the way we live.

Unresponsive ineptitude is not merely an annoyance. The sluggishness of the welfare state drains it of its moral force. The crushing weight of bureaucracy permits neither efficiency nor idealism. It thus robs us of a good part of the energy of democratic capitalism and encourages a corrosive cynicism that cannot help but undermine the moral aims of the social-democratic vision.

Worse yet, because the institutions of the welfare state are intended to be partial substitutes for traditional familial, social, religious, and cultural mediating institutions, their growth weakens the very structures that might balance our society’s restless quest for prosperity and novelty and might replenish our supply of idealism.

This is the second major failing of this vision of society — a kind of spiritual failing. Under the rules of the modern welfare state, we give up a portion of the capacity to provide for ourselves and in return are freed from a portion of the obligation to discipline ourselves. Increasing economic collectivism enables increasing moral individualism, both of which leave us with less responsibility, and therefore with less grounded and meaningful lives.

Moreover, because all citizens — not only the poor — become recipients of benefits, people in the middle class come to approach their government as claimants, not as self-governing citizens, and to approach the social safety net not as a great majority of givers eager to make sure that a small minority of recipients are spared from devastating poverty but as a mass of dependents demanding what they are owed. It is hard to imagine an ethic better suited to undermining the moral basis of a free society.

Meanwhile, because public programs can never truly take the place of traditional mediating institutions, the people who most depend upon the welfare state are relegated to a moral vacuum. Rather than strengthening social bonds, the rise of the welfare state has precipitated the collapse of family and community, especially among the poor.

Go to Detroit or my home town of Flint, Michigan, to see it in all its inglory.

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