Saturday, September 3, 2011

Being "Political"

"There’s a specter haunting American politics: national decline. Is America on the way down, and, if so, what can be done about it?"

This is from David Brook's column in the New York Times, around September 1 or so. It is entitled "The Vigorous Virtues," and it touts Rick Perry while criticizing him as well, along with other Republicans who are thinking "cut, cut, cut." Brooks argues for government, that is, some government, pointing out that government is necessary for some things. And, of course, as even the most simplistic account of American history since the New Deal would point out, this is true. Hasn't anyone noticed that the rise of the United States to super power status has gone hand in hand with the creation of a humongous national government or that even Alexander Hamilton knew of this phenomenon?

But I have some criticisms of Brook's essay. First, he presents the specter of national decline not as a political event but as a social event. That is, like so many "conservatives" he points to such social phenomenon as single parents as being at the root of the decline. He does not see this decline as a political phenomenon, that is, the result of the fact that the nation has been controlled for the past several decades by those who may be called oligarchs. It is these oligarchs, like Clinton and Shrub, who have harmed the nation and especially its economy and they have done so in order to serve their own class. Divorce and single parenting are hardly responsible for the loss of jobs overseas or for the rise of the Walmart economy or the "failure" of social security.

Second, he posits the need for what he calls the creation of the "instigator state," which for Brooks is to replace the "nanny state" which, allegedly, we have been living in since, well, it is unclear but let me say since LBJ's "Great Society." This phrase, the "instigator state," is also a politically neutral category, as is the phrase the "nanny state." If the cause of our decline is a political phenomenon, then there is no way to know if creating an "instigator state" will remedy our ills. I suspect it will not and, further, that it is merely a cover which will be used by the oligarch's to retain their power.

Finally, Brooks illustrates the phoniness of Rick Perry's "attack" on the national government, of his pledge to make government inconsequential in our lives. I approve of this as a goal, even as the goal of politics but it cannot be successfully undertaken unless and until we reject "greatness" as the goal of political action. So long as we desire to be "a great nation," that is, great economically, socially, politically, and militarily, we will have to embrace a pervasively powerful national government. This should be clear by now, after Reagan and Shrub and their alleged "conservatism." Genuine conservatism requires rejecting greatness as the goal of politics, as the goal that human beings should pursue. This is what Jefferson and Jackson and even Mark Twain knew. It is a lesson we need to relearn or we will, even with a Rick Perry presidency, suffer the consequences.

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