Or, How Nancy Pelosi Made Me a Better Man.
As all four of my regular readers may have noticed, I’ve got a bit off the radar lately in the blogging world. My absence was regrettable, but it was also for good reason — I simply didn’t have very much to say, or at least I wasn’t prepared to say it. Over the past few months, I’ve had some very humbling realizations in my own life, and I’ve seen some good friends humbled, as well. Advice that I’ve given has been ill-advised; I’ve done damage where I didn’t intend it. No, I’m not in any trouble here — Mom, no need to call — just a bit more humbled by life than usual.
None of these realizations are very conducive to political blogging. What we’re about here, after all, is offering our thoughts and opinions about matters of public concern. If you don’t feel especially confident about your thoughts on matters of private concern, though, it’s hard to confidently project yourself into the public sphere. I can certainly tell you what I think of Obamacare, or Holder’s brigade of Gitmo lawyers, or the obliteration of 200 years of Congressional rules and courtesy that took but two weeks to undermine. But those battles are being fought, with or without me, and I should come prepared for the fight if I am going to join it.
Interestingly, it is this very meditation on human frailty that has brought me back to Marque’s Letters. Over the last several weeks of the health care debate, we have witnessed incredible hubris on the part of the Democrats. They are utterly convinced that their cobbled-together mess of a Senate health care bill is going to heal the sick, solve the deficit, and usher us all into a new era of post-partisan social bliss. They truly believe that, even if it doesn’t quite work the way they think it will, they — in their infinite wisdom and their superior compassion — will solve it through more regulation, more legislation, better policymaking. Insurance companies will be better once they are virtual zombies borne of the state, because smart liberals will be the ones in charge. Treatment will be better, cures will be found, and doctors and nurses will be plentiful and cheap now that Washington has answered the call and taken over.
Of course, it doesn’t stop with health care. Auto companies will be successful once the government and their union confederates are directing them. Wall Street firms are evil when they don’t pay their executives what the government’s “pay czar” deems to be fair; they are sainted when they contribute to Democrat campaigns and support liberal causes. Students are better off when their loans come from the government, rather than profit-taking bankers. No one need learn the DOJ’s reasoning for releasing Gitmo detainees — the legal experts (not the stupid, warmongering Republicans) are in charge, and they should be trusted. Al Gore and his scientist allies have spoken on the link between greenhouse gases and global warming, and all those who question even the most obvious untruths are agenda-driven deniers, worthy only of your scorn.
The common link, the underlying attitude, is a prideful audacity. There is no humility here. They cannot conceive that they might be wrong about what the people want or need. Even when the world — in the form of polls, or elections, or town hall demonstrators — intrudes on the Democrats’ self-absorption, it is rejected as uninformed, or misled by venal critics, or even just unworthy of attention. Dissenters must not be confronted – they must go. How else can you explain these comments?
Robert Gibbs: “I hope people will take a jaundiced eye to what is clearly the Astroturf nature of so-called grassroots lobbying … The Astroturf nature of grassroots lobbying, which is largely the term for, you know, this is manufactured anger.”
Pelosi and Hoyer: “These disruptions are occurring because opponents are afraid not just of differing views — but of the facts themselves. Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American.”
President Obama: “I don’t want the folks who created the mess to do a lot of talking. I want them just to get out of the way so we can clean up the mess. I don’t mind cleaning up after them, but don’t do a lot of talking.”
John Dingell: “The harsh fact of the matter is when you’re going to pass legislation that will cover 300 [million] American people in different ways it takes a long time to do the necessary administrative steps that have to be taken to put the legislation together to control the people.”
Nancy Pelosi: “But we have to pass the bill so you can find out what’s in it.” [Emphasis added]
What’s amazing, of course, is that these are the same folks who said that if we didn’t pass their stimulus bill, we would have 10 percent unemployment. Faced with 10 percent unemployment after spending nearly $800 billion on their stimulus bill, they were no less confident about their economic projections on health care, or cap and trade, or even the “Son of Stimulus” jobs bill. Democrats have an entirely different spin on the phrase “past performance is not indicative of future results” — rather than warning us against unreasonably high expectations, they assure us that all the past failures have nothing to do with the current empty promises.
Faced with such heedless arrogance, what is a humble blogger to do? Certainly not what I’ve been doing for the past three months. In fact, the arrogance of Pelosi, Reid, Obama & Co. have led me to cast a more introspective eye on myself, my conservatism, and its potential for the same sort of pretentiousness. What I found was edifying.
Conservatism, at its heart, is a humble philosophy. Consider, for example, conservatives’ confidence in free markets. The market is essentially a mechanism for establishing value. It is an acknowledgment that none of us, or at least very few of us, have the knowledge necessary to make perfectly rational decisions about the value of most goods. Most of us, if asked to make value decisions in a vacuum, would probably make big mistakes. Ask a hungry person what he would pay for a banana, and he might offer $50.00. Ask someone who hates bananas and he might say $0.01. Ask a banana grower what he’d like to sell them for and he’d say $100.00 a piece! None of these are what one would pay for a banana at the grocery store, of course. Instead, that price has been set through the process of all of us — consumers, suppliers, all over the world — deciding at what price we are willing to buy a banana, and what price we are willing to sell one. We let this process happen because we humbly acknowledge that none of us, on our own, have the knowledge or position to set The Price. And, through this mysterious exercise of humility and communication, we set the price together.
Consider, in counterpoint, the liberal alternative. Liberals believe that they know how much a banana “should” cost. They believe that government, through the exercise of price controls, punishing taxes, broad-based subsidies, and comprehensive regulation, they can coax, cajole, or simply order the banana system into shape. If at first, they don’t succeed in getting The Price for everyone, they will merely twist the screws tighter, push different buttons, pull different levers. But the idea that perhaps the don’t really know what a banana “should” cost never crosses their mind. The concept that the present cost is already distorted by past government attempts at setting The Price is anathema. Even if that is acknowledged — a rarity — the response is not a chastened humility, but a redoubling of effort. Usually this involves identification of corporate villains who themselves are trying to set The Price (who, not being government liberals, are unworthy). Of course, corporations are no more capable, without the help of the market, of setting prices and determining value than government — and they don’t show up with guns if you refuse to pay them.
Market policy is only one facet of this dichotomy. Liberals are outraged that the Supreme Court won’t let them regulate the speech of corporations; conservatives believe that no one has all the answers, and the more voices in every debate, the better. Liberals believe that a unified set of “global community values,” espoused by their anointed among the “international community,” should govern international affairs; conservatives reject the notion that any elite knows what is best for the world and promote democracy to allow self-determination and unique national interest to govern foreign relations. Liberals believe that regulators know the right amount of risk — medical, environmental, personal, what have you — we should each bear, and keep pushing the bar lower to punish those who refuse to keep us “safe”; conservatives agree that a reasonable expectation of safety should be established, but that individuals should be free to choose to accept more or less risk in their lives above that line.
To be sure, conservatives can exercise their own form of arrogance. When they rule dissent out of bounds, they are no better than their liberal counterparts. When they impose their own view of international norms out of a sense of paternalism, rather than promote peaceful change through moral suasion, they are just as condescending as the liberal global elite. And any time conservatives convert their preference for traditional values to a legally-enforceable code of conduct, they are ignoring the fact that the Judeo-Christian source of those traditions is grounded in an assumption of human frailty.
The honorable intentions of the governing elite have rarely been an issue in the history of American social change. Only at the end of the colonists’ argument with England did the mother country’s intentions turn hostile. At the beginning, Parliament’s taxes were an attempt to seek the common good — their rich colonies were just paying their fair share toward the Empire’s many responsibilities. The colonists first revolted not because they doubted Britain’s intentions. They simply rejected its idea of what was good for them, and the notion that a distant elite could define it and enforce it with the power of the state. Their answer was not to set up a local elite — instead, it was to put themselves, the people, in charge of their own welfare.
The Democrats in Congress are making the same mistake as Parliament in the 1770s. They simply cannot imagine how their subjects could doubt that they have their best interests at heart. They assume the public will figure it out and come along for the ride. They may even seek to punish those who are intransigent. They don’t understand that their actions, not their intentions, are at issue, and they only compound the matter when they attack those who just want them to listen. Fortunately, this time, their lack of humility will be judged by the ballot rather than the bullet.
I am but a humble political blogger. I do not know what is best for you. You may have just lost your job and would rather send your kid to college than pay for health insurance. You may be absurdly wealthy and would rather pay for your health care by selling a few thousand shares of Coca Cola stock. You may be a middle class parent who can’t imagine life without a generous health insurance policy. All of these choices are valid, and they are all part of being an American. Were I to tell the unemployed man that he must buy health insurance, I am an arrogant ass. Were I to tell the rich woman that not only must she buy health insurance, but she must pay taxes to buy it for others, I am an audacious fool. Were I to tell the middle class parent that she can have her health insurance, but not the nice policy she has now — that would be greedy — I am a self-deluded prig. Of course, I have not told any of these people they are wrong. But a majority of our elected representatives have.
It is thus my duty as a humble American blogger to not only call our leaders what they are, but also to do my part to liberate my fellow Americans from these presumptuous entrapments that threaten to upend our entire political experiment. In doing so, I am not placing myself above my fellow citizens, or issuing edicts from on high. I am but one voice in a chorus of voices that, together, will set the price of our freedom. I only hope that we are willing to pay it.
Lately, I have been reminded of the consequences of arrogance in my own life. It is all too easy to believe that our best intentions are enough to justify our actions. Unfortunately, no amount of goodwill can counteract the harm caused by a reckless deed, or even a well-considered one. Far better, then, that we share our thoughts, acknowledge our limitations, and struggle through this life together without illusions. To my friends, who I have wronged in my arrogance, and my fellow bloggers, who I have briefly abandoned, I ask your forgiveness, and promise you my best. Now let’s get after it.