Friday, January 30, 2009

Hope and desperation

I’m quite hard on American liberals, and I make no apologies for that. That said, whereas liberal pundits and politicians often make me dismayed or angry, most liberalism (or conservatism, for that matter) in the average person just makes me feel sad. That’s been amplified by the Barack Obama phenomenon.

As I’ve said before, in practice American liberalism is not about expanding government power to help the needy or combat exploitation by big business, it is about exploiting fear of big business and sympathy for the needy to build up government power, but it succeeds because so few liberals actually understand that. There’s a lot of bad ideas and deplorable motivations among liberals, but there’s good too, and it’s awful to watch as so many people’s admirable motivations- compassion for the suffering, the desire to protect the vulnerable- are twisted back on themselves by those stronger and more cunning. That's a constant feature of politics, but it's especially glaring now in the afterglow of Obama's coronation. The orgy of pork, corporate welfare, and general jobbery that the government's "stimulus" efforts will inevitably produce are no doubt just the beginning.

It will be interesting to see how public opinion evolves as reality asserts itself. Like most libertarians, I have little doubt what that reality will be. Obama will not fix the economy. He will not bring a new age of national unity and fellowship. He will not do anything positive about the drug laws, welfare statism, dysfunctional education system, or barriers to economic success that wreak such havoc on millions of black Americans. Whether or not Obama is sincere is beside the point; whenever his intentions, he will not be what people dream of him being.

I suspect that we'll be seeing a lot of denial as the disappointments mount. President Bush had millions of people who believed in him no matter how severely he violated the ideal of limited government he claimed to support. (An ideal I think many conservatives still believe in, buried though it is under a mountain of partisan loyalty, intellectual confusion, desperation, and fear. Rank-and-file conservatives and rank-and-file liberals often seem to have a pretty similar relationship to their professed principles.) And George W. Bush didn't enter office on the sort of tidal wave of desperate adulation Obama is enjoying.

Like a drowning man, people threatened with the destruction of hope will cling to anything. People will try to justify or rationalize the failures and the betrayals of promises. People will reconcile themselves to things that would have rightly appalled them if Bush had done it. (See Cheryl Cline's recent post for an example.) Some of that is just cynical partisan politicking, but I think a lot of it is sincere- the death of a beloved hope is so agonizing that people often warp or just deny their own perceptions to avoid that pain. This is a common phenomenon that we've all probably witnessed. It's not hard to find relationships and marriages where one partner is blatantly unfaithful, exploitative, or abusive, and yet the victimized partner has convinced himself or herself that things are okay, that their partner is a good person who loves them.

There is no field of life that offers and then crushes hope as extravagantly as politics. And so, millions of people will end up trying to defend and justify Obama no matter what he does, no matter how much he fails or betrays the dreams he filled people with. Their longing for the good things Obama promises will lead millions to support, against their own ideals, all the bad he causes.

Thus, we see illustrated one of the most striking features of the state and of statist ideologies, which is how effective they are at warping good motivations and sentiments into support for unjust actions and destructive results- in short, of transmuting good into evil. That so many people think of it as not only a benevolent institution, but as the primary means of doing good and expressing what is best in our society, is a terrible irony indeed.

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Paul Stagg said...

Fantastic post!

Aretae said...

This is a beautiful post. Thank you.