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President Obama's Problem

by Christopher Chantrill
January 22, 2009 at 6:53 pm

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WE CONSERVATIVES wish President Obama well. Of course we do. Conservatives are decent people who believe in saying and doing the right thing. But still, we wonder. We wonder whether President Obama really understands the problem.

If you read the retrospectives of the Bush administration you realize the problem that the global media elite had with the last eight years. It wasn’t that they didn’t like the policies of the Bushies. After all, as Charles Krauthammer noted last week, so far the Obama administration transition looks like “continuity-we-can-believe-in.” No. People just didn’t think that the Republicans had the right tone, the right attitude to run the government of the United States.

A prime example of this is the Bush retrospective in the London Economist last week, “The frat boy ships out,” a long recitation of everything that was wrong with the administration of President Bush. This “‘timeless fraternity boy’ wanted to be a great president.” “He regarded Reagan as a man who had unleashed free-enterprise and defeated the Soviet Empire, and he tried to do the same with his huge tax cuts and his global war on terror.” He even echoed Reagan with his use of the word “evil.” Bush is an “inverted snob,” a “convert to an evangelical Christianity that emphasises emotion” over reasoning. The Bushies suspected intellectuals and “conspicuous intelligence,” and Cheney pushed Bush “forcefully” to the right on everything. It all added up to the “three most notable characteristics of the Bush presidency: partisanship, politicisation and incompetence.”

Does all this seem eerily familiar to you? Does it all sound like the Democratic talking points that have been endlessly recycled in the national and global media for the past eight long years?

Earth to Economist. The three most notable characteristics of politics and government are partisanship, politicization, and incompetence. That is why conservatives believe that the best kind of government is the government that does the least. That way you get to minimize the amount of partisanship, politicization, and incompetence.

There is a word for people who think like the writer at the Economist: Deluded. People like that live under the delusion that everything would be a complete mess without conspicuously intelligent, educated, enlightened people to run things.

That’s why the Bush years were such a disaster, you see.

The Bush disaster had nothing to do with conspicuously intelligent people in the government goading the banks to lend money to bad security risks. It had nothing to do with conspicuously intelligent people devising fiendishly clever credit default swaps that they confidently assured us would safely reallocate the risk from all that bad paper spewing out of Fannie and Freddie. Oh no. As the New York Times wrote a couple of weeks ago, the mess was all because Bush’s “philosophy stoked mortgage bonfire” in 2002 and 2003. You would think that the conspicuously intelligent people at the New York Times could think of something better.

That leads us to President Obama’s problem. For over a year, our Democratic friends have been telling us how intelligent Barack Obama is. Conservatives weren’t impressed. But now even Larry Kudlow, who got to attend that Obama dinner with conservative pundits last week, is on board. “He is charming, he is terribly smart, bright, well-informed, he has a great sense of humor,” he marvels . What do you think, Larry? Could it be that Barack Obama possesses “conspicuous intelligence?” If he does, then I think we have a problem.

The signal achievement of the last century was to fill the grave-yards with the results of conspicuous intelligence. First there was Bismarck. Germany has never been the same since. There was Lenin. Russia still hasn’t recovered from his brilliance. President Coolidge called Herbert Hoover “Wonder Boy.” I wonder why? President Roosevelt and his Brains Trust put the Great in Great Depression. President Lyndon Johnson was a legislative genius. His War on Poverty wrecked the African-American family.

Here’s who I want for president. I want a dull dog who takes the oath of office and says: My fellow Americans! For the past century we’ve been conjuring up all kinds of crazy things for government to do and we’ve sluiced trillions of your dollars at them. But what do we have to show for it? We’ve made government so big and complicated with programs and corporations and subsidies and exciting jobs for people of conspicuous intelligence that now everything is too big to fail.

My fellow Americans: I make this solemn pledge. I will protect you from the never-ending tsunami of conspicuous intelligence.

Somehow, I don’t think that the intelligent President Obama sees it that way. And that’s a problem.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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Responsible Self

[The Axial Age] highlights the conception of a responsible self... [that] promise[s] man for the first time that he can understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it.
Robert N Bellah, "Religious Evolution", American Sociological Review, Vol. 29, No. 3.


Taking Responsibility

[To make] of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier. — Gen. Hans von Seeckt
MacGregor Knox, Williamson Murray, ed., The dynamics of military revolution, 1300-2050


Civil Society

“Civil Society”—a complex welter of intermediate institutions, including businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churches—builds, in turn, on the family, the primary instrument by which people are socialized into their culture and given the skills that allow them to live in broader society and through which the values and knowledge of that society are transmitted across the generations.
Francis Fukuyama, Trust


What Liberals Think About Conservatives

[W]hen I asked a liberal longtime editor I know with a mainstream [publishing] house for a candid, shorthand version of the assumptions she and her colleagues make about conservatives, she didn't hesitate. “Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice fascists,” she offered, smiling but meaning it.
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Liberal Coercion

[T]he Liberal, and still more the subspecies Radical... more than any other in these latter days seems under the impression that so long as he has a good end in view he is warranted in exercising over men all the coercion he is able[.]
Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus the State


Moral Imperatives of Modern Culture

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Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self


US Life in 1842

Families helped each other putting up homes and barns. Together, they built churches, schools, and common civic buildings. They collaborated to build roads and bridges. They took pride in being free persons, independent, and self-reliant; but the texture of their lives was cooperative and fraternal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism


Society and State

For [the left] there is only the state and the individual, nothing in between. No family to rely on, no friend to depend on, no community to call on. No neighbourhood to grow in, no faith to share in, no charities to work in. No-one but the Minister, nowhere but Whitehall, no such thing as society - just them, and their laws, and their rules, and their arrogance.
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Faith and Politics

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Pope Benedict XVI, Speech to European Peoples Party, 2006


Never Trust Experts

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Conservatism's Holy Grail

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Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph


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presented by Christopher Chantrill

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