September 9, 2010

Root Of My Disaffection

Once upon a time, I was involved with politics, on the right-of-center side of things, and interested in helping search for the issues of the future and the new solutions to those issues that the conservative movement could help bring about. Then something strange happened -- Bill Clinton got elected President and this strange mania seemed to capture all the people whose thoughtful and creative energies I had formerly admired. This happened just about the same time I was beginning my career and I found that shifting tracks and doing something nonpolitical was a relief.

Not that the left is any better, but I grew up in a world where the intellectual energy had been sucked out of the left-of-center portion of the body politic a long time ago (one suspects, in a fit of collective partisan mania beginning about January 4, 1981) and I've never had any expectation that it would ever come back. The answers to social, and in particular governmental, problems has more or less always been the same from the left for as long as I can remember anything -- we need more government control of stuff we don't like, for government subsidies for stuff we do like, and higher taxes to pay for it all.  The post-Watergate Congress was, it seems to me, the last burst of creative political energy from the Democrats; the first incarnation of what is now known as was the last burst of creative political energy on the Republican side of the aisle.

Steven Taylor, and through him David Frum, comment on a similar sort of phenomena going on today. Think tanks are a lot more "tank" than "think" these days, they say, having regressed from institutions where people spend their time looking at the world and coming up with ways to make it better into op-ed factories expressing minor variations on what are essential the same cookie-cutter talking points. 

What I'd add to Prof. Taylor's comment is that while I think what he's talking about is quite correct, it is also not something confined to the right, and it is nothing new.  Ideas don't matter any more.  Good policies don't matter anymore.  The policies are going to be what they're going to be no matter who's in charge.  The only thing that matters in politics is if my tribe is stronger than your tribe so I can have my way and therefore I can enjoy the spectacle of you grinding your teeth in frustration while I'm doing it.

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