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Anger and Politics Anyone for Tipping Points?

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Return to Self-Government

by Christopher Chantrill
September 11, 2004 at 8:00 pm

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IN THEIR EMERGING Democratic Majority, John Judis and Ruy Teixeira conjure up a future political coalition, an alliance between the progressive centrists and the traditionally marginalized that will take power from the present Republican majority.  They see the ranks of creative professionals and working women increasing and benefiting the Democrats. 

One hopes that they won’t, for the progressive vision goes profoundly against the grain of the American experiment.  The Union was intended, after all, as an experiment in self-government not an opportunity for an educated, progressive elite to save the poor and helpless from a fate worse than death.

Progressive elites seem to harbor a distaste for self-government.  You could tell that from the acid response among the chattering class to President Bush’s proposed “ownership society.”  On PBS after the president’s acceptance speech in New York Republican David Brooks was giggly with pleasure.  But Old Democrat Mark Shields was cranky and unbelieving.  To him it was all window-dressing, and anyway there wasn’t any money for major new programs.  And you can see why.  A nation of owners is a nation much less in thrall to government compulsion and expert supervision.  Why would progressive centrists encourage that?

It’s not surprising that the Mark Shields of the world remain in denial about the seriousness of the Bush agenda.  Thoughtful journalists successfully protect them from its corrosive pollution.  You could read The New York Times for months and months without reading much in the way of analysis of the president’s program.  A recent analysis of media bias found that mainstream media outlets cite Democratic-leaning political think tanks much more than Republican-leaning think tanks.  In fact, based on think-tank citations, they read pretty well like a Democrat making a speech in Congress. 

This careful screening of political ideas in the media has a consequence.  Liberals remain happily ignorant of the goals and the program of the political movement that has risen to power in the United States over the last twenty-five years—and they like it that way.  They hate Christian fundamentalists with a passion; they rail at tax cuts for the rich; they sneer at President Bush’s heartland persona; they defend the sanctity of Social Security and Medicare.  What else do they need to know about evil Republicans?

But suppose that the “ownership society” turns out to be a radical idea that captures the imagination of America’s voters?  What would happen then?  Maybe the United States would return to its roots in Anglo-American of self-government in which people are assumed competent to govern themselves unless proven otherwise and experts serve as advisers to the citizenry rather than their supervisors. 

It’s about time that top-down government got its comeuppance.  It has had an astonishing run.  Considering that it had its out-of-town tryout with the emergence of the big city political machine at the end of the Civil War, had a boffo run in the New Deal years of the 1930s, and then had a record-breaking return engagement in 1965 with President Johnson and his top-down Great Society, surely it’s time for American political theater to move on to something else.

Some Americans have always hated top-down government, for it undermines the ability of a competent people to provide for each other’s welfare.  Today, these people are called Republicans and they have learned to sing a new song of self-government to the American people, one that begins with a trenchant critique of top-down government: from its one-size-fits-all pension program to its one-size-fits-all education program.  It is to these Americans that the administration of George W. Bush wants to appeal with its “ownership society” program that pushes against the one-size-fits-all edifice with new symbols of self-government: tax advantaged savings accounts for pensions, education, and health care that assume that the average American is a self-governing actor capable of making responsible decisions about his life.

Democrats don’t believe the show will ever open.  Maybe they are right.  It’s hard to legislate political changes, and it will be especially hard to push against the great interests that have grown up in the years of Democratic ascendancy.  But maybe the Republican “ownership society” will create owners out of renters, employers out of employees, and rock-ribbed Republicans out of Democratic little people, just as the GI Bill and FHA home loans created Republican suburbanites out of Democratic urban working stiffs.

Maybe Democrats will wake up one day to a United States Senate with a comfortable Republican majority, a determined House of Representatives led by a former high school wrestling coach, and a reelected Republican President.  They will realize with horror that the Republicans have a mandate from the American people to implement change. 

Supposing all this happened on the morning of November 3, 2004?

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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Action

The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness... But to make a man act [he must have] the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action


Chappies

“But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison


China and Christianity

At first, we thought [the power of the West] was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity.
David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing


Churches

[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm


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


Class War

In England there were always two sharply opposed middle classes, the academic middle class and the commercial middle class. In the nineteenth century, the academic middle class won the battle for power and status... Then came the triumph of Margaret Thatcher... The academics lost their power and prestige and... have been gloomy ever since.
Freeman Dyson, “The Scientist as Rebel”


Conservatism

Conservatism is the philosophy of society. Its ethic is fraternity and its characteristic is authority — the non-coercive social persuasion which operates in a family or a community. It says ‘we should...’.
Danny Kruger, On Fraternity


Conservatism's Holy Grail

What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph


Conversion

“When we received Christ,” Phil added, “all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.”
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh


Democratic Capitalism

I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all. In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism


Drang nach Osten

There was nothing new about the Frankish drive to the east... [let] us recall that the continuance of their rule depended upon regular, successful, predatory warfare.
Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion


Education

“We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.”
E. G. West, Education and the State


presented by Christopher Chantrill

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