Imposed “Responsibility” Is Just Coercion
It’s disorienting to hear folks who follow politics for a living take speeches as sincere explanations of politicians’ hopes and intentions. One would expect, as a case in point, David Brooks to understand the dangerous undercurrents of a speech by President Obama that Brooks describes as “a small masterpiece” of “explication.”
His view was clear. The market is dynamic and important, but it makes people reckless, parochial and dangerously shortsighted. The market needs adult supervision — a leadership class made up of people who appreciate the market but who also have committed themselves to public service, and who therefore take the long view and are more conscious of the public good.
Obama is building this new leadership class. His administration has become a domestic I.M.F., consisting of teams of experts who can swoop in and provide long-term solutions when systems — finance, housing, health care, education, autos — have broken down.
When the members of this new establishment are confronted with a broken system — whether it involves hospitals, energy, air pollution or cars — their approach is the same. They aim to restructure incentives in order to channel the animal drives of the marketplace in responsible directions.
Brooks does put forward two significant objections, but they’re easily rebuffed. The first is that this “leadership class” might fail, to which the plain response would be, essentially, that the current system has failed and that the administration feels a moral obligation to try to right it. The second is that Obama’s spending spree does not exemplify the responsibility and “hard choices” that he wishes to impose on others, ranging from passivity to Congress’s worsening of his proposals to the attempt to do all things at once to his recent “cynical Potemkin cuts.” But the simple answers to this are that America’s problems are deep, requiring the large dollar amounts to stabilize, and that an administration can only work within its context and must cooperate with coequal government branches.
The way I see it, there are only two possibilities that join the president’s Georgetown speech and his actions. His words could be cynical political rhetoric intended to obscure for citizens the differences between his approach and that of his opposition. That, after all, is how he got himself elected: by convincing everybody that he was going to govern the way that they wanted, even if each preference was incompatible with the other.
The other possibility is that Obama is sincere, in which case raising the specter of fascism is not unreasonable. The emergence of “planners” and (being human) their inevitable failure are milestones on the road to serfdom. Indeed, this leveraging of a market system for the government’s use in serving the “public good” is the central theme of Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism.
To repeat my suggestion at the Providence tea party, if we aren’t free to take risks, we aren’t free. If the government can “swoop in” and save us, then our eyes will always look first to the dark shadow circling around us. Moreover, the rest of our society isn’t free if it is obligated to pay for insuring others’ risks, whether those others are businesspeople or public officials who, by corruption or incompetence, find themselves with failures to cover up and all the tools of government to apply toward that effort.