Saturday, November 08, 2008

"Baroque Plans And Rococo Dreams"

In the world of punditry, there are few more tiresome in their pursuit of uniqueness than George Will. Will first rose to prominence in 1980 when, as a fledgling columnist for The Washington Post, he also worked for the Reagan Campaign, serving as a debate coach for Reagan, using the purloined papers from the Carter team to keep Reagan from repeating his oft-stated insistence that trees caused air pollution and that Poland wasn't really a sovereign nation. This should have disqualified him from being taken seriously as a "journalist" forevermore. Yet, in the world of Washington, working for a politician who wins, and is popular, is taken to be a sign not only of wisdom, but of defense of the city's values. He thrived during the 1980's, with his team of interns searching for obscure quotes from Burke and Montesquieu with which to pepper his columns.

As the era in which he thrived comes to and end, the dim memories of Reagan's triumphal march probably feeding his feelings of sorrow, he writes in today's Post of the irony of the heirs of Reagan giving away hundreds of billions of dollars to big business, as if Republicans had never even thought of such a thing before this fall. In fact, far more has been given in corporate welfare in the age of "small government" than could ever be seriously be considered for the truly needy among us. Even as members of the Reagan, Bush, and Bush Administrations sought to gut programs for the poor and children living in poverty, corporations as diverse as Chrysler, Raytheon, and IBM received largess from the government in order to stay alive, and even thrive. Will can write seriously about the irony of Bush's giveaway to investment banks not because he doesn't know of the pattern of corporate welfare; he can write it because such was SOP for the Republican Party. Now, however, this pattern is broken because a light if finally turned upon the practice of handouts to big business.

The title of this post comes from the following section of Will's lament.
September's financial storm probably sealed Obama's victory by raising the electorate's anxieties while lowering its confidence in Obama's opponent. John McCain's responses -- suspending, sort of, his campaign; ratcheting up his rhetoric about Wall Street "greed and corruption" -- suggested a line spoken solemnly by the Capitol Steps' Bush impersonator: "Uncertain times call for uncertain leadership." But the storm's aftermath -- $1 trillion or so of government resources siphoned away -- will severely constrain Obama's presidency. So, this year the conditions conducive to the election of liberals, with their baroque plans and rococo dreams, have put a polar frost on most such ambitions.

In other words, he is attempting to paint a picture of liberals constrained by our current economic woes. Alas for George, he doesn't really give an example of what he means by "baroque plans and rococo dreams" so he has no idea that, or chooses to ignore, they revolve, as President-elect Obama made clear in his news conference yesterday, around reviving the economy. Yes, it means reprioritizing budgetary outlays - and most probably a modest tax increase on the wealthiest Americans even as there is tax relief to free up money for consumer spending - toward in such a way that actual human beings receive some kind of benefit.

I would note, for the record, that I think it odd Obama didn't mention Iraq in this context. Surely he must be aware that our multi-billion dollar spending on this debacle is a source of our economic woes. While this is hardly a time to seriously restrain our military spending - we do have the little problem of Afghanistan with which to deal, as well as the general problem of al Qaeda - one would think that part of redrawing our budgetary priorities would be a plan for withdrawal and redeployment, including stopping the arterial hemorrhaging in Iraq. Returning to the status quo ante bellum, although not in Saudi Arabia, and sending some of the quarter million troops in Mesopotamia to the mountains of Afghanistan might just be of help. Returning guard and reserve units back home where they can return to their regular jobs and help contribute to economic activity seems a sound plan. Providing for opportunities when they return home in the form of all sorts of infrastructure investments - with direct assistance to Iraq veterans seeking employment in such ventures - would be promising as well.

Yet, Will wishes to paint a picture of liberals boxed in by grim reality. Except, of course, these same grim realities are actually a grand opportunity for a creative, thoughtful, experimental group of policy wonks. Will thinks them Baroque and Rococo. I tend to think of them as po-mo and pragmatic. Rather than wedded to some imagined past of convoluted schemes (I really don't know what, exactly, Will means using such a description of liberal policy), this is an opportunity to try stuff and see if it works. If it doesn't work, keep trying until something else works. The best of America has always been this way. We aren't an ideological nation so much as we are wedded to the idea that what is best about us is our ability to set principle aside when it is necessary to do what needs to be done. Obama represents the best of this tradition. If that is baroque, well, I'll settle for that rather than the truly antiquarian plans and schemes of Republicans.

Virtual Tin Cup

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