George Packer writes:
Obama isn’t trying to remake America’s economy and society out of ideological hubris. He’s initiating sweeping changes because he inherited a set of interrelated emergencies that require swift, decisive action.
Imagine the following paragraph:
Bush isn’t trying to remake the Middle East out of ideological hubris. He’s initiating sweeping changes because he inherited a set of interrelated emergencies that require swift, decisive action.
The politics of “interrelated emergencies” is inevitably pretty fraught — we are asked to suspend our critical faculties and to give our leadership the benefit of the doubt. The tragedy of this political moment is that the conservative opposition has been badly discredited by its own approach to a set of “interrelated emergencies.”
Like it or not, however, Americans are relying on this battered opposition to raise the relevant arguments. Because I think we need an opposition, I hope they get their act together, and I’ll forgive them for making forceful and even occasionally polemical arguments. The Democrats, for example, did the country a favor by pushing back aggressively against a haphazard remaking of Social Security, despite the fact that the program does merit incremental reform. And though Republicans didn’t succeed in pushing for a more narrowly-tailored stimulus program, we are seeing some intellectual ferment around exactly these questions. That is all to the good.
Packer writes very admiringly about David Brooks, as well he should. And I think he is instinctively a fair-minded writer and thinker, e.g.:
Any set of ideas can harden into ideological certainty, especially when it’s been in power for a long time. Obama’s emphasis on government intervention could become as calcified and resistant to facts as the Republican Party’s free-market conservatism is now.
This is what Sam Tanenhaus called the “Beaconsfield position,” and it is interesting to see it emerge as the haute-progressive gestalt. Part of me prefers the frankness of John Judis and Paul Krugman, who prefer a more robust social democratic politics, one that doesn’t stop to admire the Beaconsfieldian Obama but rather pressures him to move left.
The Beaconsfieldian left arrays itself against ReaGoldwaBush:
The conservative approach to economic and social policy, as refined to ideological purity under Bush, is to get government out of the way, trust free markets, and let chronic problems fester until they turn into disasters.
This reminds me of an ongoing debate among medical practitioners. The ideology of American medicine emphasizes intervention in the face of uncertainty — “There is a 10 percent chance that some problem will emerge, so let’s perform invasive surgery now.” The trouble is that invasive surgery introduces its own risks and complications. Consider the thousands of people who die of infection in hospitals. Letting “chronic problems fester until they turn into disasters” is obviously wrongheaded. But how many policy dilemmas can be defined with such certainty?