11.12.2008

America Urges Government to 'Do Something!'

I have previously argued that gridlock in Washington is one of the last (short-term) lines of defense against rampaging attacks on individual rights in day-to-day politics. It turns out that this isn't a popular view among a majority of Americans.

From today's Boston Globe, we find the following:
While half of Americans disapprove of how Democratic leaders in Congress are doing their job, a majority believes that one-party control of Capitol Hill and the White House will be good for the country, according to a new survey.

The CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll released yesterday found that 47 percent approve of the job Democratic congressional leaders are doing and 50 percent disapprove.

But 59 percent say that Democratic control of the House, Senate, and presidency will be good for the country, while only 38 percent say it will be bad for the nation.
Although 50% of Americans think that the Democrats in Congress are performing poorly, 59% think that finally having them control both the Legislative and Executive branches will be a good thing. I scratched my head about that one for a bit, until I realized that those 59% of Americans may not necessarily care what the government does, as long as it does something.

This is a perfect example of the pragmatic, nanny state mentality that so many people have today. They may recognize that the actions of the current leadership are bad, but in the same breath state that maybe things will be better if they can do more, with less resistance.

It turns out that Gus Van Horn saw a similar case today, but drawing from a different set of facts. Commenting on a story of a recent crackdown on free speech by Burma's dictator, and one reader's view that it isn't socialism but instead the selfishness of the dictator that is the cause of the trouble, Gus says:
I have often spoken of a "dictator fantasy" in which people like this apologist for socialism (or Obama's more fanatical supporters) seem to think that the despot they want in power will rule as he, personally, sees fit. This is clear evidence of a lack of principled thought, and the proliferation of people with this fantasy is a direct result of the prevalence of the philosophical approach of pragmatism.
Perhaps the ineffectual (and, in fact, damaging) Democratic Congress is benefiting from the honeymoon glow of Obama's election, or that people are assuming that Congress will simply follow the lead of The One, because he has the Change We Need. But those of us who value our liberty can see that a desire for single-party rule under the banner of "Do something! Anything!" is recipe for disaster.

If things go as badly under an Obama administration as they could--if he gets all of his horrendous policies implemented and leads us into The Great Depression II--will those who suffered from the "dictator fantasy" wake up and find that "this isn't the despot we wanted!!"? Or will their pragmatism lead them to accept that, just like FDR, Obama did all he could, and he should be lauded as a hero?

8 comments:

Sir Andrew said...

I always thought the notion of "doing all one could" implied some degree of surrender. As if you met an opposing force and decided you couldn't stop it, or just didn't want to stop it.

C. August said...

That's a good point. History looks back in admiration at FDR, saying "Oh, he tried so hard!" as if that makes up for everything. It's not the quality of the performance, but how hard you tried that counts.

On a tangent, I'm suddenly reminded of the current practice of giving trophies to all the kids, simply for showing up. Skill, achievement, ideas, results... none of that is as important as "doing all you can." Having firm standards is so impractical, anyway...

Burgess Laughlin said...

I highly recommend Tara Smith's article on pragmatism, in the current issue of The Objective Standard. (There is a link to it in the excerpt from Gus Van Horn's comments.) I finished the article this morning. It is a lightly edited version of a lecture she gave at a recent Objectivist conference.

She identifies the philosophical roots of pragmatism, the present nature of pragmatism as a complex of ideas, its consequences, and how one can combat it. No intellectual activist can succeed without understanding and applying the points she makes.

http://www.theobjectivestandard.com

Here.

C. August said...

Thanks, Burgess. I second your recommendation of Tara Smith's article. It is an essential piece of intellectual ammunition, and draws attention to just how pervasive and destructive the philosophy of pragmatism is.

Richard said...

The way it seems to me is that the disapproval rating is so high because many people think unproductive politicians are bad. When there is gridlock, and few new laws etc. are passed, people disapprove. They view making laws a politicians job, and so passing few laws means they're not doing their elected job, and that simply won't do.

A lot of media coverage will say as much, and the words "bi-partisan support" have magical like properties now days, meaning "no more of that old disagreeing, this thing can probably pass!" Indeed there's even a website, "DividedWeFail.org", promoting the idea that when politicians are divisively time consuming everyone loses. So my guess is that the poll is saying people disapprove of the sluggish do-nothing state of things, but that with more of a majority there will be less resistance and more political "productivity".

C. August said...

I agree, Richard. Thanks for elaborating on that point.

People would rather have their politicians "do something," than act to protect their individual rights. Because these folks aren't thinking in principles, they mistakenly substitute action for substance. Because only range-of-the-moment, whatever-works-right-now ideas carry any weight, standing in the way of "progress" or "change" is inherently bad, and to ask what that progress actually means is "idealistic" or "unrealistic."

Stephen Bourque said...

Good post, C. August. I am generally an advocate of gridlock as well, since it can block some of the harm that legislators would otherwise impose upon us. Of course, if Congress were attempting to direct America toward real freedom, gridlock would be bad. But when is the last time Congress did that?

As much as I am critical of certain aspects of Ronald Reagan, one of my favorite quotes is attributed to him, pertaining to politicians trying to solve problems - particularly economic problems - with legislation. He offered the advice, "Don't just do something - stand there!" thus reversing the old saw.

Grant said...

One would think that the public would have been smacked free of the "no gridlock as panacea" illusion just three years ago; when it occured. There was a Republican in the White House, the 109th Congress had a Republican Majority, and, after Justices Roberts and Alito were confirmed, the Supreme Court had a conservative majority.

Where, oh where, have the minds of my country men gone?