Sunday, February 7, 2010

People Powerless

Jacob Weisberg tilts at the same windmills that Rick Shenkman tackled with a weekend article on Slate, and takes the same licks for being "a liberal elite." It's hard to be a serious watcher of American politics, and not come to the conclusion that one of the major problems with America is the Americans, and it seems that more people are willing to be critical of the American public as one of the primary, if unintentional architects of its own problems.

But until the American public itself ends its love affair with the idea that there's always a painless (at least for them) solution to any problem, we're going to continue to be susceptible to people, like Scott Brown, who assert that one can seriously rein in, if not eliminate, with government deficits "simply by cutting government waste." If you're even a casual follow of personal finance advice, you'll likely have heard (over and over) the idea that you can't very well tackle the inefficiencies in your household budget until you sit down and study it, and know where each and every expenditure is going. Let's face it, the Federal budget for the next twenty minutes, let alone the rest of the fiscal year, is likely complicated enough that you'd need an advanced degree in finance to even look at it without being driven completely insane. The idea that anyone, running as an "outsider" could know enough about it to be able to unequivocally state how to fix it seems silly on its face. (Besides, even if the problem were that simple, given the sheer amount of dollars that it entails, could any crusading member of Congress really tackle the problem on their own? Either a good chunk of Congress is in on the scheme and would vigorously oppose changes, or the waste would have to be VERY well hidden, and likely inextricably linked to necessary projects and services. The idea that ending it would be painless to the public is nonsensical.)

And so that leaves the question - how do you convince someone that they're part of the problem without shaking their understanding of themselves? The terms ignorant, unreasonable and inconsistent are considered insults, and not trivial ones, either. And that, I think is what drives a brand of populism that is able to, for all intents and purposes, both deny and take shelter in an overall lack of understanding How Things Work. While on the one hand, our problems are caused by a hateful elite that wishes to enrich itself at the expense of the noble masses, the realization that this elite exists, and that their plans are easily defeated with a simple donation to to vote for the correct crusading candidate makes one part of a heroic elite that understands what's really happening - a cut above the "sheeple" that buy into the misinformation that change means sacrifice or loss.

I don't have the answer to that question. I barely have a handle on knowing what I don't know. I think it will take a smarter man than I to infuse the nation with a new progressivism that reminds us that looking for villains isn't as productive as everyone pulling together.

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