March 14, 2005
POLITICS: The Status-Quo Based Community
Jonah Goldberg absolutely nails a point I've been meaning to make, and in precisely the same terms: that if you actually paid attention to the anonymous quotation from which many left-wing bloggers draw the phrase "reality-based community," and the real-world context in which it was offered (assuming the quotation's accuracy, which with Ron Suskind is far from certain), what many on the Left are proclaiming fealty to is really a status quo-based community, in which present realities - in particular, present governments - are assumed to be unchangeable. Applied to the Arab/Muslim worlds, the Left has spent its time trying to argue over how we deal with the existing regimes, rather than how to change them. Applied to Social Security, it means arguing about the cost of transitioning from the current system rather than starting with the question of what kind of system is sustainable and beneficial over the long haul.
At first glance, this seems ironic: isn't it conservatives who have spent years mocking liberals for promoting unrealistically utopian plans for radical change, and isn't it liberals who used to use the mantra, popularized if not coined by Robert Kennedy, of not seeing what exists and asking "why" but dreaming things that never existed and asking "why not"? Well, yes. But there's a critical difference. When the Left has proposed radical changes, they tend to involve things like altering social structures (say, to eradicate gender differences), or instituting big, complicated government programs with all sorts of potential for unforeseen consequences (think HillaryCare). In other words: trying to change human behavior. Whereas conservative initiatives aren't about changing the longstanding nature of the people to suit the government, but about changing governments to suit the longstanding nature of the people. Democracy in the Middle East? Well, it's worked for hundreds of years and has been successfully installed in many and varied other situations. More private control over Social Security, health care, education? Well, all of human experience shows that people are more responsible when making decisions for themselves. Nothing in conservatism says you have to worship the status quo, but you do have to respect tradition and history as guides to how people behave. The status quo based community somehow manages to take the stasis without getting the reason for it.
Don't get hurt patting yourself on the back. If I recall the conservatives, until W came along, have been big proponents of dealing with current regimes (didn't Reagan and Co. sell a bunch of weapons to Saddam Hussein?). I would say that "conservatives" view of change comes when it involves a big old payday for them and their ilk. The war in Iraq wasn't about changing governments, remember? It was about WMDs and the threat of Iraq. When that ploy was discovered to be mostly an empty saddlebag we went on to Saddam being the WMD and so on. Please.
I do not know enough about Social Security reform to comment intelligantly on it but I do know that there is a big truck load of cash sitting there and the way the current administration looks at things I am sure they feel that they are better off with that money than other people. Same thing goes with bankruptcy reform. Changing the status quo comes when $$$$ are the net result (or at least a good portion of it).
Grr, wrote out a response and it didn't post. Conservatives in the 80s were big fans of upsetting the status quo, but were prioritizing the Communist world and thus didn't press for change elsewhere. That's a strategic decision. Now that the Arab/Muslim worlds are the main national security threat, that's where the action is.
As for Iraq, many of us - me included (check the archives) argued that the main issue was regime change and WMDs were just a symptom of the problem. It was no secret that the Bush Administration felt the same way.
The convenience of spinning history works very nicely. We knew SH had WMDs because Reagan and his bunch sold WMDs to them. Apparently he mostly used them up since little was found in 2004-5. I would argue that we are for change in the mid-East less because it is the most pressing threat (No. Korea, China, formet Soviet States have nukes and are either headed by a) a nut b) Commies c) no one in particular apparently) and more because it is where the big bucks are. The Bush Admin is a big self-serving organization with incredible PR.
I agree with you, conservatives are not for the status quo. I disagree with you about why they want change. It is in no way about chagning govenrments to suit the nature of people. You make it sound like it's a Sesame Street episode or a Morning in America ad (circa 1980s). Name something this administration has changed, attempted to change or wanted to change where there was not a huge pot of gold at the end of the change rainbow.
You say that nothing in conservatism claims for the status quo. Well, one thing that conservatism certainly stood for, at least through about the '60s, was a minimum of government intervention. Now conservatives cannot rip libs for being in favor of big government since the debt went up under Reagan and has skyrocketed under Bush's regime. And the claim that the left is part of the "reality-based community" reflects the fact that the right is so connected to its spin that it has lost its mooring from reality and is spinning in some sort of netherworld of spin whereas some on the left wish to keep the political dialogue based in reality. Anyway, nice site you got here, although I guess I disagree with your politics :)
Name something this administration has changed, attempted to change or wanted to change where there was not a huge pot of gold at the end of the change rainbow."
You get it Crank!? It was all about the oil! Boy, I've never heard that one before...
I don' think it is about the oil. Jeez, it is always the same old patter with you folks. Here one admin punch line and use it forever regardless of whether or not it applies. Hell with all the money the administration has been passing out to every corporation and contractor it can find it doesn't have to be about the oil. It can all about the tax dollars and the deficit spending this administration is willing to run (of course they reduce the deficit by taking money from the Social Sec. trust fund but that is sort of a different topic). See, Richard, they get you to think that "Those lefties will say it's about the oil" when they are stealing your money (or more appropriately your children and grand children's money).
Just so you know though I do know an enlisted guy (wow, a lefty with a friend in the service) and you know where he spent a lot of his time in Iraq? Ding, ding. In the oil fields. Never looked for a WMD the whole time he was there.
I still don't think it's about the oil though.
But cf. Clinton's championing of regime-change in the Balkans, and Reagan's resistance to it in South Africa. Cf. the ongoing policy (under Democrat and Republican administrations) toward Cuba.
An aversion to regime-change in a given case seems to have less to do with the respective positions on regime-change in specie and more to do with competing perceptions about the national interest and the duty of humanitarian intervention.
jim -- agreed that the reasons given by the Bushies don't really align with whatever their actual ends are, but I would say that we need to consider a little gedankenexperiment here first before calling the oil card in. Let us say that, from the outset, the Bush administration has all been about Iraqi oil, that the White House is nothing more than another outpost of Halliburton, and the oil industry generally.
Would they or would they not be interested in actually getting oil out of the country? Production continues to be off historic highs even as world spare capacity diminishes to about one percent of total. The Bush handling of oil security hasn't been all that fantastic, with new episodes of sabotage weekly. So in this environment, it seems to me hard to make this attach.
What the hell? I did not bring up the oil card. I just responded to a post and even said twice that I don’t think this whole fiasco is about oil. Doesn’t hurt that it’s there, but it is not what it is about. Did you catch the Pentagon auditors’ report today? Several hundred million dollars unaccounted or oddly accounted for in or related to Iraq. $27.5 million to ship $82,500 worth of gas for example. But the government will keep on paying on those contracts with bonuses. Why have it be about the oil. Oil is hard to get. This administration is more than happy to pass out fat wads of cash to their buddies and snow job the public on what is going on.
Change to this administration means a change in the size of bank accounts. Reading that this administration somehow acts in humanitarian ways makes me laugh out loud.
I'll try to avoid the brickbats and make 3 brief points:
1) If you're defending the idea behind the Suskind quote, why are you questioning its authenticity?
2) The Democrats are focusing on the costs of SS as a political tactic, but the issue of what system to use is there. The Republicans really want to get rid of Social Security, but they know there's no chance of that happening directly, so they're trying to do an end run. The Democrats know what they want - Social Security. They're just not willing to accept the Republican insistence that you can't preserve that type of retirement program.
3) As for the nature of the people, my reading of it says that if we did go to a private accounts system, and a significant minority of people did poorly (in their opinion), they'd pressure the government to make up the difference, and the government would cave, and we'd wind up spending even more than we plan to now.
Crank, I think this post was a fine piece 'o punditry. Instapunditlink-worthy.
I don't think notions of "faith-based" and "reality-based" community have anything to do with Middle East policy or Social Security policy, unless you believe (i) that the United State's entire Middle East policy is predicated on a notion of the "End of Days" and (ii) that Social Security policy is predicated on the fact that the End of Days will come before any of us need to rely on retirement income.
Not that there is anything wrong with that.
But let's not mix up our arguments. Let's not collapse policy arguments into arguments about orientation towards faith without being clear.
More importantly, you say that "All of human experience shows that people are more responsible when making decisions for themselves"
More responsible, maybe. More successful as a whole, definitely not. Winners win more. Losers starve to death. Nobody in the middle.
And when the wealthy and the connected make bad decisions, does human experience show that they're held responsible? Nope.
Notwithstanding all of that, I think your blog is an excellent read.