Monday, January 30, 2012


Fred Siegel and Joel Kotkin on "The New Authoritarianism" in the Winter 2012 City Journal:
The president and his coterie could have responded to the 2010 elections by conceding the widespread public hostility to excessive government spending and regulation. That’s what the more clued-in Clintonites did after their 1994 midterm defeats. But unlike Clinton, who came from the party’s moderate wing and hailed from the rural South, the highly urban progressive rump that is Obama’s true base of support has little appreciation for suburban or rural Democrats. In fact, some liberals even celebrated the 2010 demise of the Blue Dog and Plains States Democrats, concluding that the purged party could embrace a purer version of the liberal agenda. So instead of appealing to the middle, the White House has pressed ahead with Keynesian spending and a progressive regulatory agenda.

Much of the administration’s approach has to do with a change in the nature of liberal politics. Today’s progressives cannot be viewed primarily as pragmatic Truman- or Clinton-style majoritarians. Rather, they resemble the medieval clerical class. Their goal is governmental control over everything from what sort of climate science is permissible to how we choose to live our lives. Many of today’s progressives can be as dogmatic in their beliefs as the most strident evangelical minister or mullah. Like Al Gore declaring the debate over climate change closed, despite the Climategate e-mails and widespread skepticism, the clerisy takes its beliefs as based on absolute truth. Critics lie beyond the pale.

The problem for the clerisy lies in political reality. The country’s largely suburban and increasingly Southern electorate does not see big government as its friend or wise liberal mandarins as the source of its salvation. This sets up a potential political crisis between those who know what’s good and a presumptively ignorant majority. Obama is burdened, says Joe Klein of Time, by governing a "nation of dodos" that is "too dumb to thrive," as the title of his story puts it, without the guidance of our president. But if the people are too deluded to cooperate, elements in the progressive tradition have a solution: European-style governance by a largely unelected bureaucratic class. . .

Their authoritarian progressivism--at odds with the democratic, pluralistic traditions within liberalism--tends to evoke science, however contested, to justify its authority. The progressives themselves are, in Daniel Bell’s telling phrase, "the priests of the machine." Their views are fairly uniform and can be seen in "progressive legal theory," which displaces the seeming plain meaning of the Constitution with constructions derived from the perceived needs of a changing political environment. Belief in affirmative action, environmental justice, health-care reform, and redistribution from the middle class to the poor all find foundation there. More important still is a radical environmental agenda fervently committed to the idea that climate change has a human origin--a kind of secular notion of original sin. But these ideas are not widely shared by most people. The clerisy may see in Obama "reason incarnate," as George Packer of The New Yorker put it, but the majority of the population remains more concerned about long-term unemployment and a struggling economy than about rising sea levels or the need to maintain racial quotas.
See also Holman Jenkins in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal:
Presidents make traps for themselves: Signature initiatives cannot fail; they can only be doubled down on, as Mr. Obama was expected to do in Tuesday's State of the Union even as he also tried to make peace with the natural-gas fracking boom. Only fresh waves of rhetoric praising electric cars will suffice when taxpayers are figuring out that Obama policy has them subsidizing electric playthings for the affluent. Solyndra must be defended all the more fiercely now that solar is collapsing globally as countries repent of foolish subsidies. Green energy must be hugged to Mr. Obama's breast all the more tightly as the shale revolution renders hopeless any chance of wind and solar becoming cost-competitive with fossil fuels.

Mr. Obama is engaged in a "long game," says Andrew Sullivan, writing in Newsweek, making a point that no one doubted. But there's a difference between playing the long game and playing it well. The Obama long game is exactly how green energy metamorphosed from a policy notion into a political strategy and then into a dead weight his campaign must lug to November.

Still, let us admire the high-rolling political risk Mr. Obama takes in spurning affordable, strategically convenient energy from Canada. That risk includes, between now and Election Day, looking like a chump if oil prices surge because of the world's vulnerability to the narrowness of the Strait of Hormuz.

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