dThe Perils Of A Policy President - Road to the Middle Class - by Christopher Chantrill
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The Perils of a "Policy" President

by Christopher Chantrill
September 30, 2009 at 5:31 pm

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THE LAST three Democratic presidents are similar. They are policy presidents: they all believe in the rational, systemic approach to governance. That’s what David S. Broder, dean of the Washington press corps, has noticed. And he realizes that it’s a problem.

Of course, liberal Broder did not come up with this on his own. He got it from the inaugural issue of a new conservative magazine, National Affairs, and an article “Obama and the Policy Approach” written by a conservative thinker, William Schambra, from a conservative think tank, the Hudson Institute.

Schambra sees... that "Obama is emphatically a ’policy approach’ president. For him, governing means not just addressing discrete challenges as they arise, but formulating comprehensive policies aimed at giving large social systems — and indeed society itself — more rational and coherent forms and functions. In this view, the long-term, systemic problems of health care, education, and the environment cannot be solved in small pieces. They must be taken on in whole."

In Schambra’s view the policy approach goes back to the Progressive movement that, a century ago, tried to tame the tribal conflicts of democratic politics by applying “the new wisdom of the social sciences to the art of government,” and rising above the narrow and the parochial.

Unfortunately the Progressive approach does not work. That’s what Schambra argues, and what Broder dimly underatands when he writes:

Obama, budget director Peter Orszag and health czar Nancy-Ann DeParle grasp the intricacies of the health-care system as well as any three humans, and they could write a law to make it far more efficient.

But as soon as their rational plan hits the Congress it gets torn apart by special interests and factional rivalries. Reality is not quite as rational as Obama and his czars want to think.

It’s good that David Broder has finally come to the party. Conservatives have been trying for at least half a century to teach liberals that the one-size-fits-all model doesn’t work. It was 1944 when F.A. Hayek argued this in The Road to Serfdom.

In the dim light of dawn, Broder prudently shelters his readers from the full force of Scharma’s argument. Obama is bound to fail, according to Scharma, just like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

Our constitutional system is constructed on [an] understanding of the limits of reason and of the goals of politics. Every effort to impose the policy approach upon it has so far ended in failure and disappointment, and done much lasting harm.

Let us rehearse the conservative critique of the “policy approach” to government:

  1. Different people bring different moral systems “rooted in many centuries of experience and wisdom” to society’s problems. If you treat society as a problem to be solved, you are privileging one moral system over the others.
  2. Government is force. If you have a single, system-wide government program for education, for health care, and for the relief of the poor, you are doing it with force. Is force really necessary?
  3. Hayek’s Law. Thirty-five policy experts “czars” and their staffs cannot beat the knowledge of 300 million Americans on how to make the country work.
  4. Graves’ Law. “Damn it all, a person has a right to be who he is.”
  5. Even if you could come up with the perfect health-care system for today, and get it through Congress, what about tomorrow? How does your brilliant idea get to adapt to changing circumstances?
  6. What about the Law of Unintended Consequences?

If that is all too complicated, here is the issue between conservatives and liberals in a nutshell.

From Daniel Henninger quoting Victor Fuchs: “Every time the state assumes an additional function such as health insurance, child care or benefits for the aged, the need for close family ties becomes weaker.” You get charts like this:

The chart shows that Fuchs’ statement is not strictly true. It needs a qualifier. With each government program “the need for close family ties becomes weaker,” starting with the poor. The problem with rational, systemic liberal government is that it hurts the poor first and hardest. When 40 percent of children born to high-school dropouts do not live with both parents, there is only one thing to say. This is wrong.

For conservatives, Barack Obama’s career in “the non-profits, advocacy coalitions, and foundations” of Chicago, his faith in policy professionals and social science all symbolize the failed liberal experiments of the last century. To liberals like Cass Sunstein, Obama may be an “’anti-Bush’ from whom we will see ‘a rigorously evidence-based government.’” To conservatives, Obama represents fantasy-based government.

What liberals fail to see is that their cozy world of non-profits, advocacy coalitions, and foundations is utterly self-serving and corrupt. It is a world in which rigorous evidence and big money are passed from insider to insider in a derivatives trading scheme.

Some day, a conservative activist is going to figure out how to explain this to the American people. Maybe his name is Andrew Breitbart, and he already did.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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Faith & Purpose

“When we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakened from the sleep of ages—they seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.”
Finke, Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990


Mutual Aid

In 1911... at least nine million of the 12 million covered by national insurance were already members of voluntary sick pay schemes. A similar proportion were also eligible for medical care.
Green, Reinventing Civil Society


Education

“We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.”
E. G. West, Education and the State


Living Under Law

Law being too tenuous to rely upon in [Ulster and the Scottish borderlands], people developed patterns of settling differences by personal fighting and family feuds.
Thomas Sowell, Conquests and Cultures


German Philosophy

The primary thing to keep in mind about German and Russian thought since 1800 is that it takes for granted that the Cartesian, Lockean or Humean scientific and philosophical conception of man and nature... has been shown by indisputable evidence to be inadequate. 
F.S.C. Northrop, The Meeting of East and West


Knowledge

Inquiry does not start unless there is a problem... It is the problem and its characteristics revealed by analysis which guides one first to the relevant facts and then, once the relevant facts are known, to the relevant hypotheses.
F.S.C. Northrop, The Logic of the Sciences and the Humanities


Chappies

“But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison


Democratic Capitalism

I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all. In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism


Action

The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness... But to make a man act [he must have] the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action


Churches

[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm


Conversion

“When we received Christ,” Phil added, “all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.”
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh


Living Law

The recognition and integration of extralegal property rights [in the Homestead Act] was a key element in the United States becoming the most important market economy and producer of capital in the world.
Hernando de Soto, The Mystery of Capital


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