Friday, September 24, 2010

Broken souls fixed while-U-wait

Much pondering has gone down in the blogosphere and elsewhere about Obama's single-minded determination to radically transform America — along with his seeming indifference to the outrage he has generated. It is as though he cannot be troubled about counter-revolution because he knows that history has already happened, and it's on his side. There's also a quasi-religious component to his sacrifice-the-troops, human-wave assault on our constitutional foundation, which he neither understands nor cares about. He is the Soul Fixer.

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An article titled "The Stakes of Obamacare" on the web site of the Claremont Institute quotes Michelle "Madame Defarge" Obama thus: 
Her husband "knows that at some level there's a hole in our souls," she often said, and he "is the only person in this race who understands that before we can work on the problems, we have to fix our souls. Our souls are broken in this nation."

Part of the soul-fix was to reawaken Americans' belief in "the audacity of hope," the notion that big changes were still possible in politics if only the people would put aside their cynicism and fear, enlist behind a leader capable of seizing the moment, and together chant, "Yes, we can." The Obama campaign seized that moment and did not let go, but the point was not merely to win the election but also to change the country. He knew it was impossible to fix the American soul without working on "the problems," too, without showing that change could be embodied in new programs and institutions that would in turn shape a better American soul.
It's a long article, but worth the read for its analysis of the value system and strategy of the Soul Fixer and his followers. The piece, by Charles R. Kesler,  focuses on the Obamacare law, but only as an example of the operating principle behind it. Essentially, the Fixer and his apostles believe that they were put on earth to conquer human nature once and for all; to create an earthly paradise where poverty, illness, inequality, and a poor self-image are against the law.

Obviously, mere individuals are incapable of bringing this to pass by themselves; the same applies to privately held institutions (businesses, if one has to be vulgar) and governments that are relatively close to the people, such as state and local. Only a central government of the wise and far-seeing will do.
Among its other effects, this act marks a new stage in the decline of constitutional government in America. One sign of this was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's remark, "we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy." After shepherding the equally massive financial regulation bill into law, Senator Christopher Dodd was moved to say something very similar: "No one will know until this is actually in place how it works." In late August, Senator Max Baucus, Finance Committee chairman, chimed in: "I don't think you want me to waste my time to read every page of the health care bill....We hire experts."
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These statements make both an epistemological and a political point. The first is that these bills are so long, complicated, and unreadable that no one who isn't an expert can possibly decipher them. That implies, in turn, that no amount or quality of democratic deliberation can clarify them to citizens, and in most cases to legislators, in advance. Indeed, Pelosi suggests that political debate itself, "controversy," mostly dims public understanding by generating "fog."
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The second point is that neither she nor Dodd nor Baucus is especially troubled by this breakdown in democratic accountability. With this kind of legislation, they imply, there's no choice but to trust the experts—not merely those who patch the law together, but perhaps more importantly those who implement it. For the truth is that this kind of bill, almost 3,000 pages long, will mean what the bureaucrats say it means.
But even that is only an epiphenomenon of the state of mind of which Obamacare is both product and promoter. To wit: Everything that is good and desirable (and arguably much that isn't) is a human right. But humans — ordinary humans, that is — can't guarantee those so-called human rights. Everything's stacked against you: business, the economy, the cost of valuable things like medical care, and the refusal of reality to yield to dreams.

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You have only one player on your side (so this line of thinking goes): a big central government that can order all these others to yield. Big dogs, look out: bigger dog moving in.

The trouble is, even if the Government Colossus could make all your wishes (excuse me, rights) come true — which it can't — the price is a hole in your soul that makes the one Obama sees look like a subatomic particle. It's the price, simply, of self-respect, of knowing that you (not some far-off bureaucracy) are responsible for yourself and those you love. And learning how to live up to that responsibility, to be an adult, not a perpetual child.

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"The Welfare State," Malcolm Muggeridge wrote, "is a kind of zoo which provides its inmates with ease and comfort and unfits them for life in their natural habitat." I think he was too optimistic, but he was writing in the 1950s, when even a conservative like Muggeridge could take the state's IOUs seriously. Soul Fixer Obama and his kind will bring us neither ease, nor comfort, nor the ability to live in the world that is our habitat.

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2 comments:

David said...

What Christopher Dodd said: "No one will know until this is actually in place how it works"...was true, and would have been true to a substantial extent even if the bill had been properly read, debated, and analyzed. A more perceptive man than Dodd might have seen this as a reason to avoid making such overwhelming changes all in one fell swoop.

Several years ago, I posted about the failure of the FAA/IBM project known as the Advanced Automation System....intended to be "as radical a departure from well-worn mores and customs as the overflow of the czars," in the words of a participant. Another participant described the radical ambitiousness of the project as follows:

"You're living in a modest house and you notice the refrigerator deteriorating. The ice sometimes melts, and the door isn't flush, and the repairman comes out, it seems, once a month. Then you notice it's bulky and doesn't save energy, and you've seen those new ones at Sears. The first thing you do is look into some land a couple of states over, combined with several other houses of similar personality. Then you get I M Pei and some of the other great architects and hold a design run-off..."

Most Americans would probably be very happy if the government "refrigerator" could be replaced so the door fit better and the repair calls were less frequent. But a person like Obama could never have been elected had their not also been a substantial number who *do* feel that they have "holes in their souls" and are looking to the government to fill those holes.

Zeke said...

Rick, it's been a while since I've checked in at "Reflecting Light" and I'm overwhelmed with the excellence of many of your recent articles. You've really upped both the quantity and quality of your writing.

This is now a very exciting blog, up there among the best of the one-man part time efforts.

Well done.