It's not "populism," it's Rush Limbaugh's talking points

>> Monday, May 05, 2008

Despite criticism of her gas-tax cut, Clinton is happy to embrace her new populism. At a town hall appearance hosted by ABC's This Week, when Clinton was asked to name an economist who agreed with her plan, Sen. Clinton returned to her Bush-like posture on the value of expert opinion. "I'm not going to put in my lot with economists," she said. "Elite opinion is always on the side of doing things that really disadvantages the vast majority of Americans."
"Clinton's Final Full Day In Indiana,"
John Dickerson, Slate, May 5 2008

So that's where we're at now, is it? This is what we're going to resort to? The talking points of the conservatives? Because that's what the Senator's reply is, that's exactly what it is.

Specificially, of course, it's the "liberal elites" who are the bane of this country. I suppose that, seeing as how I'm a liberal with a JD from Chapel Hill I'm probably a member, or at least a hanger-on. At least I always feel angry when conservative pinheads say that it's only the liberal elites who are in favor of fair wages, environmental regulations, affordable healthcare, progressive taxes, better public schools, affordable housing or any of those other things that disadvantage the vast majority of Americans.

I'm sure it's because we hate America, we people who try to know a little bit about what we're talking about and who consult experts when we don't. Because what America really needs is to imagine the city on the hill and then just pretend we're already living in it--let's not confuse everybody with the practicalities of how we're going to actually get everyone up on the hill and maybe make sure we all have enough to eat and a place to sleep and an equal shake from the law no matter what color or gender or class we happen to be.

The opinion of the liberal elite has always been "we can do better." We can have smart, well-fed children and we can have clean air and the people who are in emergency rooms are people with actual emergencies and not people who had to wait until their routine health problems became emergencies. What the liberal elite in America and elsewhere has been for, as an old English tune goes, is:

A place to stay
Enough to eat
Somewhere old heroes shuffle safely down the street
Where you can speak out loud
About your doubts and fears
And what's more no-one ever disappears
You never hear their standard issue kicking in your door.
You can relax on both sides of the tracks
And maniacs don't blow holes in bandsmen by remote control
And everyone has recourse to the law
-"The Gunner's Dream,"
Roger Waters
1983 Pink Floyd Music Publishers Ltd. sorry that that really disadvantages the vast majority of Americans, or anyone else.

There are two things particularly galling about this latest pander by Senator Clinton. The first is that she, as others have discussed, is in fact a member of the elite. And ostensibly a member of the liberal elite, the intellectuals, technocrats, and artists who have tried to take point on making the American dream a reality for all Americans and not merely the luxury of the rich and privileged.

The second is more complicated, but may get closer to the heart of what's wrong with Clinton. I'll be honest, sometimes we liberal elites have fucked it up. Sometimes our ideas haven't been good ones. Sometimes even our good ideas have led us down the primrose path of good intentions right through the gates of hell. (One of the books I'm reading now, Halberstam's The Best And The Brightest, offers fine examples of how some of the best minds postwar America produced got sidetracked into leading the nation into the Vietnam debacle.) We're not perfect.

And it may well be that some of our ideas will, despite our best intentions and the necessity of trying something will cause short-term harms or perhaps even longer-term harms. Globilization isn't optional, but it's going to cost a lot of Americans their jobs, at least in the foreseeable future. Fixing the healthcare system is going to cost money, just like improving schools will. We face a Pascalian dilemma with global warming--if global warming skeptics are wrong and we do nothing, we have a helluva problem--but doing something will hurt a number of industries and cause unavoidable damage to some families for the sake of avoiding a possible future we can't allow to come to pass.

But that doesn't mean we're on the side of "disadvantaging Americans." It may mean that there needs to be a discussion about whether our means are necessary or ideal. But, for instance, objecting to drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge isn't something we do because we want to hurt Alaskans particularly or Americans generally; if anything, it's several generations of Americans, now and tomorrow, that we're trying to look out for. Hell, objecting to Senator Clinton's ridiculous little gas-tax holiday isn't something we're doing because we relish the idea of Americans (including ourselves!) bleeding money at the gas pumps--it's something we do because giving every American family $23-$90 will do little to help American families (unless, possibly, they own stock in an oil company) while jeopardizing highway safety and maintenance (the gas-tax goes to building roads and maintaining the highway system--including, for instance, bridge inspections).

When Senator Clinton says things like this--things that are so divorced from reality--the question remains, "does she believe them, or does she just say anything that she thinks will get her elected?" I think most people will say she's merely pandering, some will even trot out the usual lines about Clintonian truth "issues," much of which is frankly rubbish that has become the conventional wisdom (not that the Clintons have helped themselves much on this score). The real point is that neither of these things make her an attractive nominee--she's either delusional or dishonest (a lunatic or a liar, to trot out and repurpose another silly trope of Christian apologetics--first Pascal, now Lewis, why not?). And so I'm glad she's unlikely to get her party's nomination.

I just wish she'd stop pissing me off in the meantime.


Jim Wright Monday, May 5, 2008 at 10:24:00 PM EDT  

Question: President Clinton, NASA and the design of new Aries program, what's your take on scientists and engineers who say it's a step backwards?

Clinton: Well, frankly I don't place much stock in Rocket Scientists, I know more about spaceships than those bozos.

And so on, and so forth. Sounds stupid if somebody said something like that, but apparently anybody can be an expert on the economy - except economists.


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