The State of Denial Address

posted at 12:50 pm on February 11, 2011 by Karl

My fellow Americans, the State of Denial is strong.

Although Pres. Obama’s State of the Union address and the GOP response both avoided the issue of entitlement reform, that denial is just the tip of the iceberg. Those evasions were no more than symbolic of the political establishment’s denial of our seemingly inevitable debt crisis. Yet the denial of the coming debt crisis is itself merely a symptom of a larger denial. I alluded to this larger denial when writing about Big Media’s ostrich-like approach to the debt, and the lack of forethought about the way the debt crisis may shape political realignment in America for decades. But I never hit the nail on the head as squarely as Walter Russell Mead has been doing in an ongoing series of pieces, including “The Crisis of the American Intellectual“:

[W]hen I look at the problems we face, I worry. It’s not just that some of our cultural strengths are eroding as both the financial and intellectual elites rush to shed many of the values that made the country great. And it’s not the deficit: we can and will deal with that if we get our policies and politics right. And it’s certainly not the international competition: our geopolitical advantages remain overwhelming and China, India and the EU all face challenges even more daunting than ours and they lack our long tradition of successful, radical but peaceful reform and renewal.

***

But the biggest roadblock today is that so many of America’s best-educated, best-placed people are too invested in old social models and old visions of history to do their real job and help society transition to the next level. Instead of opportunities they see threats; instead of hope they see danger; instead of the possibility of progress they see the unraveling of everything beautiful and true.

Too many of the very people who should be leading the country into a process of renewal that would allow us to harness the full power of the technological revolution and make the average person incomparably better off and more in control of his or her own destiny than ever before are devoting their considerable talent and energy to fighting the future.

Of course, most of the people fighting the future believe they are winning the future. Mead explains the primary problem of ideology:

Since the late nineteenth century most intellectuals have identified progress with the advance of the bureaucratic, redistributionist and administrative state. The government, guided by credentialed intellectuals with scientific training and values, would lead society through the economic and political perils of the day. An ever more powerful state would play an ever larger role in achieving ever greater degrees of affluence and stability for the population at large, redistributing wealth to provide basic sustenance and justice to the poor. The social mission of intellectuals was to build political support for the development of the new order, to provide enlightened guidance based on rational and scientific thought to policymakers, to administer the state through a merit based civil service, and to train new generations of managers and administrators. The modern corporation was supposed to evolve in a similar way, with business becoming more stable, more predictable and more bureaucratic.

Most American intellectuals today are still shaped by this worldview and genuinely cannot imagine an alternative vision of progress. It is extremely difficult for such people to understand the economic forces that are making this model unsustainable and to see why so many Americans are in rebellion against this kind of state and society – but if our society is going to develop we have to move beyond the ideas and the institutions of twentieth century progressivism. The promises of the administrative state can no longer be kept and its premises no longer hold. The bureaucratic state is too inefficient to provide the needed services at a sustainable cost – and bureaucratic, administrative governments are by nature committed to maintain the status quo at a time when change is needed. For America to move forward, power is going to have to shift from bureaucrats to entrepreneurs, from the state to society and from qualified experts and licensed professionals to the population at large.

This doesn’t mean that government becomes insignificant. The state will survive and as social life becomes more complex it will inevitably acquire new responsibilities – but it will look and act less like the administrative, bureaucratic entity of the past. The professional, life-tenured civil service bureaucrat will have a smaller role; more work will be contracted out; much more aggressive efforts will be made to harness the power of information technology to transfer decision making power from the federal to the state and local level. All this change runs so deeply against the grain for many American intellectuals that they have a hard time seeing it whole, much less helping make the reforms and adjustments these changes demand.

This larger denial is the central dynamic of America’s political cuture today. Our supposed elites — when not insisting the Constitution is infinitely elastic — cling to nineteenth century modes of thought a decade into the twenty-first. In his series on this topic, Mead adopts a non-confrontational tone (note that he expressly names progressivism only once in the two quotes above), perhaps in hopes convincing lefties that they can maintain at least some of their core values while discarding old methods. Although it would be terrific if Mead could lead progressives out of their denial, there are reasons to believe it unlikely to happen.

First, it is entirely possible that psychologically, as the unsustainability of the progressive model becomes more and more apparent, progressive partisans will become even more strident. Second, the system which produces our supposed elites is itself unreformed. America’s nation’s most prestigious colleges and universities recruit heavily from progressive demographics, with policies that discriminate against and discourage those who, for example, excelled in ROTC, the 4-H club or a co-op work program. Those admitted are by no means challenged by American academia, which is overwhelmingly supportive of the progressive status quo and likely more in thrall to groupthink and self-selection than their students. Every summer sees another batch of Model T thinkers off to Wall Street, the Beltway and the media, all having learned the life lesson that this is how one succeeds, all having their identity and self-esteem intertwined with credentials issued by these retrograde institutions. Thus, it is not surprising that these ostensibly highly educated people will misinterpret critiques of that system as attacks on intellect.

The State of Denial is strong — and not good for our country. However, understanding that denial is useful in understanding much of what the establishment does and says in the current political environment. It is also important to understand that denial means that the job of preparing for post-debt crisis America will fall to the right. Conservatives and libertarians are going to have to raise their intellectual and political game, rather than sink to the level of their competition.

This post was promoted from GreenRoom to HotAir.com.
To see the comments on the original post, look here.


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Comments

Karl, you are dancing a bit too. Which entitlements would you address, and how would you address them? That’s the key to a real discussion here.

unclesmrgol on February 11, 2011 at 12:53 PM

And Obama (PBUH) will give himself credit for the sun rising today too.

leftnomore on February 11, 2011 at 12:53 PM

I don’t know, I sort of like the idea of having Ward Churchill and Bill Ayers making decisions for me.

Bishop on February 11, 2011 at 12:54 PM

Karl — horse stolen, barn door subsequently locked.

This is old, old, old news. And your “analysis” offers nothing to combat it.

MrScribbler on February 11, 2011 at 12:58 PM

Personal values change by the minute, 234+ year old principles, never change.

Denial is all that’s left.

Speakup on February 11, 2011 at 1:07 PM

Meantime… Gun show this weekend… And setting up delivery of a dozen more fruit trees for late March. Sometimes you just have to get away from it all and let the kids fight it out.
-

RalphyBoy on February 11, 2011 at 1:10 PM

Since the late nineteenth century most intellectuals have identified progress with the advance of the bureaucratic, redistributionist and administrative state. The government, guided by credentialed intellectuals with scientific training and values, would lead society through the economic and political perils of the day. An ever more powerful state would play an ever larger role in achieving ever greater degrees of affluence and stability for the population at large, redistributing wealth to provide basic sustenance and justice to the poor.

That is a scary paragraph.

Vashta.Nerada on February 11, 2011 at 1:12 PM

unclesmrgol,

You’re assuming there can be a real discussion — and while the left remains in denial, I’m skeptical. Entitlements of all stripes will have to be addressed. Ryan (despite his voting record) is about the only working pol even thinking about it in the general way I would — not in terms of how much has to be cut, but what ultimately replaces the programs we have now.

MrScribbler,

I think the state of progressivism is old news to a lot of conservatives. Indeed, I’ve paraphrased Thatcher’s quip about socialism running out of OPM a number of times before. What’s new is that the money running out is getting a lot closer to actually happening, which is what gives rise to the denial in the sense discussed here. This post doesn’t offer anything to combat it because — for the reasons already stated — I don’t know that combatting denial doesn’t backfire in practice. That’s why I suggest that the right’s time is better spent thinking about what post-debt crisis America ought to look like.

Karl on February 11, 2011 at 1:17 PM

Hey, no fair givin da man a rusted halo. Is this racism or sumpin?

Don L on February 11, 2011 at 1:20 PM

Karl — horse stolen, barn door subsequently locked.

This is old, old, old news. And your “analysis” offers nothing to combat it.

MrScribbler on February 11, 2011 at 12:58 PM

Yes, the ruling class being out of touch is not news here but America is still steamrolling toward the cliff with no real sign of letup so the conversation is far from over yet.

FloatingRock on February 11, 2011 at 1:20 PM

redistributing wealth to provide basic sustenance and justice to the poor.

Every state in history that has attempted this has only managed to redistribute poverty and eventually deny basic sustenance and justice not only to the poor, but to the entire population. I keep repeating, the problem is, at the core, a spiritual problem. The solution will be – if we ever receive it – spiritual.

“[the] “unseen” war is a spiritual struggle—the choice between turning to God or playing God.” Ravi Zacharias

oldleprechaun on February 11, 2011 at 1:23 PM

Karl, you are dancing a bit too. Which entitlements would you address, and how would you address them? That’s the key to a real discussion here.

Silly liberal attempt to trap the right. First spend the nation into bankruptcy by paying off special interest groups to vote for you and then ask the responsible people to bail you out so you can point fingers at them, dividing the country again. We saw the way you man points his finger at America, and frankly, his unions and corrupticratic friends can all go back to making their own way without stealing their living from the working class. Which page from Rules for Radicals did you get this question from?

Don L on February 11, 2011 at 1:26 PM

Karl — horse stolen, barn door subsequently locked.

This is old, old, old news. And your “analysis” offers nothing to combat it.

MrScribbler on February 11, 2011 at 12:58 PM

I would think that Karl’s missive would generate thought and comment about what we can do to set up an alternative.

For instance, couldn’t the experienced bureaucrat start up a company, hire employees etc. to do what the state is doing now only better at less cost?

Vince on February 11, 2011 at 1:27 PM

Yep. We’re boned. We either take it back one way or the other or we will keep getting boned. Play it soft. Play it hard. I’m good either way.

SurferDoc on February 11, 2011 at 1:53 PM

Karl on February 11, 2011 at 1:17 PM

Perhaps that’s why there’s no movement on this. Nobody wants to touch the third rail.

The two biggest entitlements are Social Security and Medicare. With respect to Social Security, there are many participants — some paying in, and others taking out. For those taking out, most of them paid in for their entire working lives. The money they paid in was money they could have used to buy their own retirement support, but that’s not how the scheme worked — it went to other people taking out. Now who is going to be the person to deliver the news that, after a lifetime of paying in, the participant will not be getting a payout — or will be getting far less than previous participants.

With Medicare, it has shown itself to be a high voltage third rail. Obamacare caused a downgrade in Medicare benefits, and the result was, as Obama himself put it, a “shellacking” as seniors voted the Democrats out. In a lot of races, it wasn’t tea party politics that decided things — it was seniors seeking revenge for the ravishment of the Medicare Advantage program to fund healthcare for others.

It will be interesting to see the end of the Ponzi scheme in a few years, but as a senior I’m going to get my just desserts first.

unclesmrgol on February 11, 2011 at 2:02 PM

Why is SS, Medicare and Medicaid always the entitlements mentioned? Why not the just plain free handouts to the generationally repeptative, non-working parasites that bleed our economy dry? Why are the people who have produced and paid taxes into SS and the two health programs being sacrificed when we have so many dead-beats who never paid a dime in taxes suckling on Mother Government’s teat?

Big John on February 11, 2011 at 2:07 PM

Oprah called on President Obama’s critics on Friday to “show some level of respect.”

“I feel that everybody has a learning curve, and I feel that the reason why I was willing to step out for him was because I believed in his integrity and I believed in his heart,” the influential TV host said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” in Chicago.

Of the negative mood of the country, Oprah added, “I think everybody complaining ought to try it for once.”

She said the presidency is a position that “holds a sense of authority and governance over us all,” and that “even if you’re not in support of his policies, there needs to be a certain level of respect.”

What a fool Oprah is.

1. Respect is earned, never can be demanded.

2. The presidency does NOT “hold a sense of authority and governance over us all”

Schadenfreude on February 11, 2011 at 2:18 PM

Big John on February 11, 2011 at 2:07 PM

Perhaps this:

Mandatory spending is also expected to increase as a share of GDP. According to the conservative Heritage Foundation, spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid will rise from 8.7% of GDP in 2010, to 11.0% by 2020 and to 18.1% by 2050.[10] Since the federal government has historically collected about 18.4% of GDP in tax revenues, this means these three mandatory programs may absorb all federal revenues sometime around 2050.[11] Unless these long-term fiscal imbalances are addressed by reforms to these programs, raising taxes or drastic cuts in discretionary programs, the federal government will at some point be unable to pay its obligations without significant risk to the value of the dollar (inflation).[12][13]

unclesmrgol on February 11, 2011 at 2:20 PM

There is really nothing left to say on this topic.
Obama is insane. Just as all left wing nutbags who cling to these failed ideologies.
We note that insanity is doing the same thing over & over with expectatinos of different results.
So yes, these people are ALL insane.
I don’t think it’s useful to wonder why the insane keep wishing to delude themselves.
Who can really understand what an insane person does, except for another insane person?

Badger40 on February 11, 2011 at 3:54 PM

Atlas’ shoulders are getting mighty stiff…

Freelancer on February 11, 2011 at 8:12 PM

Well, every major upheaval throughout history as been opposed by those who lose out. I seem to recall a very strong Luddite movement during the Industrial Revolution. This is no different.

Voyager on February 12, 2011 at 8:15 PM