DADDY, WHAT WAS GOVERNMENT?
While I was traveling earlier this week, I was disheartened to pick up Monday's print New York Times and find three front-page stories hinting at the zeitgeistiness of libertarianism. I'm counting the story about self-appointed crime-fighters in superhero costumes as libertarian, because that sort of Vigilantism Lite presupposes that government is hopelessly inadequate; I'm also counting the story about Asperger's kids in love because the young man featured in the story is an avowed libertarian. (The third of the front-page stories was about Ron Paul.)
Capitalism ran amok in the last decade, and we're still trying to bounce back from the mayhem -- and yet, for all the attention lavished on the Occupy movement in recent months, the hip ideology of our era is clearly the one that wants to take capitalism and remove as many restraints from it as possible, thus giving it far greater opportunities for rapaciousness. Frankly, this terrifies me. It terrifies me that the repulsiveness of Ron Paul's newsletters of the '80s and '90s is now widely known and yet the Paul Youth in Iowa clearly don't care. What if this really is to our time what '60s leftism was to that era? What if this is the spirit of the age?
Well, maybe Democrats and liberals have ourselves to blame. I saw that Charlie Pierce was attacking David Brooks a couple of days ago for writing this:
But, in the 1930s, people genuinely looked to government to ease their fears and restore their confidence. Today, Americans are more likely to fear government than be reassured by it.
Pierce's response was this:
Yes, because we have had 30 years of reckless vandalism by the political movement in which you cut your teeth. We have had three decades of anti-government rhetoric from people who then set out to prove themselves correct by cutting taxes, spending money on useless weaponry, conducting wars off the books, and hiring boobs and bunglers to staff the federal agencies. We have had Michael Brown. We have had James Watt. We have had Anne Gorsuch and Silent Sam Pierce. People don't trust government? You know what? I don't trust my car if I hire a blind drunk to drive it.
But you can't just blame Republican presidents and Republican appointees. Democrats come into office and simply fail to demonstrate to the public that government can work -- Barack Obama's administration didn't modify enough mortgages, didn't inject enough stimulus into the economy to get a significant number of people back to work, didn't throw any of the Wall Street bastards in jail. There wasn't even a single perp walk! If people don't see government working to help solve a new crisis, I guess it shouldn't surprise us when they think government doesn't do anything right, ever. But elected Democrats no longer think this matters -- they no longer think government has to work or the foundations of this society will crumble as we move inexorably to a Third World level of inequality.
Give people a reason to believe in government -- or wake up twenty years from now to find that America has only two widely held ideologies left, mainstream Republicanism and libertarianism, and the banana-republican economy to go with that arrangement.
(X-posted at Booman Tribune.)