Friday, February 06, 2009

Ideologues are Lazy

The Presidential Debate proved to be chock full of ominous warnings. I’ve written earlier about how I was bothered that a distinction of what is and isn’t a human/civil right with regards to healthcare wasn’t clearly articulated by either candidate. I was also bothered when Jim Lehrer asked: “Are you -- are you willing to acknowledge both of you that this financial crisis is going to affect the way you rule the country…” Hmmm, last time I checked, Presidents don’t rule…at least not under our constitution. At most, they govern, they lead, they act as a figurehead at times, and they are the Commander-in-Chief. But they simply don’t rule, especially on the domestic front. This idea of lords and kings ruling over us was what we revolted against in the first place. We instead chose a far messier process: democracy. (Or as purists prefer, a constitutional republic.)

So this question would have been the perfect time for either candidate to inform Mr. Lehrer and the American audience that, in fact, Presidents don’t rule and it wasn’t their intention to rule. Mr. Obama might have won me over if he had said, “Well, I appreciate the thought, Mr. Lehrer, but it’s not my intention to dictate by fiat my ideology on 300 million people. It’s rather my agenda to sign legislation that the houses of Congress write that is in line with my vision for this great nation.” Of course, neither candidate said any such thing. Maybe its because they were quietly hoping they wouldn’t have to do all the hard work of governing, compromising and getting dirty with details of actually running a mammoth and complex government. With Mr. Obama, I’m getting the sneaky suspicion that he is more and more happy to rule, and less inclined to govern.

In his first 3 weeks we have seen him arrogantly throw the gauntlet on the so-called “stimulus” bill, threatening that if it isn’t passed there will be hell to pay. And one executive order after another has imposed a decree on corporate executives pay, among other things. Then there’s the “Rule as I say, not as I do” precedent where President Obama has ignored his own promises to refrain from hiring D.C. insiders and carrying about with business-as-usual pork spending. I’m not in the least surprised that Mr. Obama has carried on with a very typically liberal agenda, even as he promised change, even change from other liberals, like Hilary Clinton. (A great breakdown of this can be found here.)

And I’m not surprised for one reason: I always assumed that folks as ideologically driven as Mr. Obama were not tolerant of dissent, which to my mind, is a form of intellectual laziness. It’s not to say ideologies in and of themselves are bad. But Mr. Obama’s ideology is a simple one and a lazy one. His ideology is at best Keynes’ rejected idea of government spending, and at worst, a strong move towards socialism. According to the theory, government spending alone will stimulate an economy. Not only do I find this attitude foolhardy, I find it to be first-class daydreaming. Whereas markets take risk, this ideology hides behind false certainty, which is just another way of cutting off debate and refusing to engage in a diversity of ideas.

I have found few ideologues that can appreciate the inherent risk of the marketplace. Rather, they are intellectually lazy and push problems and solutions off on others. They often refuse to consider the unintended consequences of what might come, how government programs create terrible incentives, or that an honest solution might take more time and hard work than the phony solution of printing worthless paper. The solution to hand it over to someone else, especially a large seemingly beneficent government is far easier, even if fraught with peril in the long run.

And now that he’s not getting his way, he’s displaying signs of anger. That anger, that impatience that things aren’t getting done fast enough, that his nominations aren’t sailing through, that the pressures from foreign enemies are mounting hourly, are signs of his arrogance and his intellectual laziness. There is no evidence he has ever done the hard work of an intellectual. He has pontificated from time to time, but for the most part he has excelled at checkers. Presidential decisions are far more akin to chess. But ideologues don’t like chess. It’s too much work, too much scheming, too much preparation. It’s far easier to simply say “King me” and to rule. I have no doubt that’s exactly what he was expecting.

I remember a fascinating documentary about the rise of Nazism. One of the more striking details it revealed was the laziness of Hitler. You might think that a man as possessed as he was would have been a workaholic. But in fact, he often slept in until noon, watched movies, went for long walks with his dog, and routinely asked not to be bothered with work. Of course, there is no comparison to any American president with the evils of Hitler. My comparison is not one of morality, but one of temperament. An ideologue has no incentive to think critically, and that is precisely the problem with Mr. Obama. His mind is already made up, and that leads to pronounced intellectual weakness. For all of Bush’s faults (and he had many), a critic cannot honestly say Bush did not sacrifice his own ideology for the perceived good of the country. I humbly ask Mr. Obama to consider Mr. Bush's example.

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