Friday, November 7, 2014

T Plus Three: Hope Yielding Self-Deception

Three days is an important time interval in sociometry. Among other things, it’s the interval between the emergence of a significant ideon – i.e., a cluster of mutually interlocked assertions or presumptions with significant implications – and the maximization of the social reaction to that ideon. In other words, three days after the ideon “hits” is when its amplitude within the relevant social space will be the greatest.

Three days ago, the United States experienced a “wave” election, in which a significant fraction of the most conspicuous component of our ruling class was replaced, supposedly by its ideological opposite. If we treat this matter strictly, the three-day interval would elapse some time this evening: at the time at which it was incontrovertible that control of Capitol Hill had passed from Democrat to Republican majorities.

The social space relevant to the election would be politically engaged Americans: i.e., those who continue to regard electoral politics as an important determinant of important matters. That’s far from being all of us; it’s probably more like 20% to 30% of American adults. Still, that’s a significant fraction of the nation, which commands a great deal of wealth, social standing, and capacity to influence the behavior of others.

By this evening, the expectations of that fraction will be primed for whatever comes next. If the Republican Party’s power-brokers have any sense for the sociodynamics involved, tonight will be when its most prominent faces – Mitch McConnell and John Boehner – will announce relatively detailed intentions for the Congressional term to come.

Let’s imagine that such an announcement of a Republican agenda will be made. What are the next, most critical questions to address?

Pour yourself another cuppa, Gentle Reader. This is where the rubber really meets the road.

In Shadow Of A Sword, the capstone of my “Realm of Essences” trilogy, I had idealized Presidential contender Stephen Graham Sumner make the following campaign pitch:

    “If you elect me president, I will put an end to every federal activity not explicitly authorized by the Constitution of the United States. I will shut down as much of the federal government as that requires, consistent with my duties as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces and chief enforcer of federal law.
    “This crowd is large enough that some of you probably work for the federal government. Nearly five million Americans do. Be sure you’re willing to take the risk that your job might not be really essential before you go into the booth and pull the lever next to my name.
    “If I can swing enough of Congress behind me, I will put an end to federal borrowing. I will put an end to the reign of unelected regulators. And whether Congress likes it or not, I will insist that the Tenth Amendment—the one that says that the powers not delegated to the United States are reserved to the states or the people—be observed strictly and explicitly.
    “You should think about that. Some of you will need new ways to earn a living. Some of you will lose subsidies or programs that have helped you to pay your way through life. All I can promise you in return is that from that point forward, you will know what federal law demands of you, and you won’t be expected to read the United States Code to know it. But that’s where my promises to you end.
    “It will be your job to discipline your state and local governments. They’ve raped you in their turn, often by conning you with the same lies and empty promises you’ve heard from politicians at the federal level. But unless they violate a constitutional restriction on their powers, I can’t help you with that.”
    He pointed a finger into the mass of the crowd. “You must call them to account. You must hold them liable. And some of you must put down the tools of your trades, possibly trades you love and have practiced for many years, and go on campaign, as I have done, to replace them.” He paused, gathered all his forces, and leaned close over the microphone. “Are you sure that’s what you want?”

Shadow Of A Sword is, of course, fiction. No one on either side of the political divide has made a promise resembling Sumner’s since Grover Cleveland at least. Nor should we expect any representative of either major party to announce such an agenda any time soon. Still, let’s follow the train of thought of a single, reasonably intelligent person in the crowd listening to Sumner that day. What questions would be uppermost in his thoughts?

  1. Is the candidate sincere?
  2. Is his agenda feasible?

In reality, an American adult would greet a statement of intentions like Sumner’s with pronounced cynicism: the “yeah, sure, that’s what you say now” reaction of one who has “heard it all before.” Our politics has been rife with insincerity and duplicity for a century at least. Such a pattern makes a radical departure a chancy thing to expect, even though the longer a trend continues, the more suspect it becomes.

But let’s stipulate that our imagined listener deems the candidate sincere. What about the feasibility of his agenda; how likely is it that even a freshly elected, wildly popular President of the United States, installed in the Oval Office by a huge majority, could bring it off?

Large institutions are like large masses; they have large inertia. The federal government of the United States is the largest such institution in the world. Even were we to exclude consideration of the dynamics of power-seeking – i.e., that men pursue power specifically because that’s the thing they want most – it would still strain credulity to accept that the candidate could and would carry out his plan. It would take a will of steel and unprecedented political muscle to achieve so much without recourse to arms.

Ann Barnhardt states the case for this in her most recent offering.

We mustn’t expect McConnell and Boehner to propose anything nearly as dramatic as Sumner’s intended program, of course. They’re power-seekers too. In all likelihood, they hope to use their increased leverage to exploit federal power to benefit themselves and their favored constituencies, rather than to begin a return to Constitutionally limited government. Indeed, there are vanishingly few persons in politics from whom a pledge such as Sumner’s would be regarded as sincere.

”Put not your trust in princes,” saith the Psalmist. That should include elected princes.

Regardless of whether the GOP’s top men will announce a plan of attack on Obamunism this evening or in the near future, the results of the midterm elections have stimulated certain hopes and expectations:

The American people sent an unmistakable message to Washington: Voters expect Republicans in Congress to listen and fight for the conservative agenda they ran on.

As little as I like to burst anyone’s soap bubble, there’s a considerable degree of naivety in those twenty-five words:

  • The “message” is entirely in the mind of the speaker;
  • What voters “expect” is beyond anyone’s ability to know;
  • In the main, “Republicans in Congress” ran solely opposition to the Obama regime; they certainly didn’t articulate firm conservative principles or a firm conservative agenda.
  • Even if we omit consideration of the above, how plausible is it that a Congress that remains 96% as it was before the midterms will deviate significantly from its previous behavior?

We can warn the incoming Congress all we like; indeed, we can shout at it till the whole nation is blue in the face. Given the dynamics of power-seeking, what can we reasonably expect from it? Unfortunately, the most plausible outcome is all too clear:

Approximately nothing will change.

The Affordable Care Act will not be repealed.
Illegal aliens will spread their exclaves over America.
Tax rates and the deductions structure will change little, if at all.
There will be no significant changes in the regulatory environment;
The IRS will get away scot free with its suppression of conservative activism.
The enviro-Nazis at the EPA will continue to obstruct natural resource exploitation.
The Justice Department will continue to maneuver to suppress lawful commerce in firearms.
No one will be prosecuted for the felonies committed by federal agencies over the past six years.
The enveloping political environment of posturing and reciprocal denunciation will continue unaltered.

Believe anything else at your own emotional peril.


Weetabix said...

The Gormogons linked to Mike Lee, who will be the Chairman of the Senate Steering Committee. He seems to be laying out a decent agenda in the wake of the elections.
What do you think of him? Here's the link:

I must admit, I haven't read the whole thing yet.

cmblake6 said...

We need to go HARDCORE TEA Party next election. Had we done so this time, we'd have kicked their asses even harder than we did!