Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Existentialism and the American Voter

The always thoughtful and thought-provoking, David Brooks describes what he sees as a kind of "happiness gap"--not between but within American voters. He argues that the successful candidate will address this with what he calls, "a gimlet-eyed federalism — strong government with sharply defined tasks." While I agree with his perception of cynicism in many voters, I think I still disagree with his assessment that "voters are not interested in uplift" or inspiration. People are always interested in that--even when they say they’re not. In fact, their omnipresent interest in inspiration is probably what causes them to say that they’re not interested in it. To use a psycho-babble (but I think true) term--it is a "defensive mechanism." They’ve been so disappointed in the past that they simply can’t believe they’ll get real inspiration, so they pretend they don’t really want it so as to avoid the disappointment. But Brooks is probably right to suggest that the current crop of candidates avoid playing that card as it doesn’t seem that any of them is good enough to quite pull it off. See what you think.

Discussions - 6 Comments

Inspiration may be wanted but not from government or politicians. The best thing to come out of Congress recently is the proposed reduced work week. Inspiration usually means some ambitious program or new government endeavor. Once we look to government for inspiration I think we are in trouble. There are plenty available sources of inspiration, Washington is not one of them nor should we desire it come to be. Democrats and Republicans can continue talking about inspiration or "the children" until we break into tears or song which ever comes first but I'd almost prefer politicians to come out and say they don't give a damn about inspiration or our children. That's not their job.

Well said, JC. But I think we can agree that the kind of inspiration you describe is not what any normal person is wanting. Still, I would like some of that old-fashioned Reaganesque inspiration--the kind that calls on us to love our freedom and work to defend it against government intrusion. Brooks is right to say that we are not apt to trust it (because so many appeals to it have been ploys) but I still think we need and want it. We just want it to be backed up with action this time.

David Brooks is right.

Winston Churchill once said that if everyone was a worm he was a glow worm. Well lets assume voters are like bass in a pond and these worms are presenting themselves as tasty morsels. Two Bass in particular get to argueing: the young bass says look how beautifull juicy and tender that worm looks...and the Wise elder bass says, look at that bare hook over there...if you look closely it has a line attached to it kind of like your worm...which leads me to believe that your worm is threaded to a hook. Non-sense replies the young bass: you are just trying to suck the joy out of life. The young bass strikes the juicy worm and knows the momentary pleasure of a succulent feast for brief seconds, before being dragged by the barbs of a nasty hook caught in the roof of his mouth. As he is put on a stringer he reflects that he should have listened to the elder bass. But moments latter the stringer is lifted up and the first bass is joined by another bass companion. This one remarks to the first: I should have listened to the elder bass, he tried to warn me. The day moves on and bass are added to the stringer, each repeating the story. Towards the end of the day the stringer is pull out of the water and the Elder bass is added to the catch. All are silent for a moment until the first bass breaks the silence:...what sort of worm juicy worm lured you here? The second bass remains silent... the first bass asks: Did the fisherman re-bait his hook with a really juicy worm? The elder bass replies: yes he did, and your compatriots on this line joined you each time he did. At this point one of the third or fourth bass spoke up: You were wise how could you fall for his trap?

The wise elder bass replies: I didn't, I was so sick and tired of his duplicity...constantly offering me what seemed to be old-fashioned inspiration, that I struck the bare hook of his clueless companion with the knowledge that If I was to be caught I wouldn't be lured here under false pretenses.

I think what John Lewis is trying to say is that he'd rather "take his despotism straight." If that was really where we were--a choice between straight despotism and despotism with the "base alloy of hypocrisy"--then I would say "me too" and bite Hillary's bare hook. But I think I'm more than a few worms away from that prospect.

The bare hook could be Huckabee in a field that panders to business conservatism/fiscal conservatism. Huck echoes George Will, the welfare state is here to stay so we might as well get used to it. The only worm that has no hook on this issue from a purist perspective is Ron Paul. The bare hook could be Guiliani in a field that is otherwise pro-life: look it is highly unlikely that anything approaching anything will occur that will make purist happy on this issue. Sadly this issue is one of dressing up the hook. On national security Ron Paul is the bare hook, he says look people this war is costing a fortune in money and lives and it is far from clear that it is achieving national security objectives...the rest of the field is pro-war but spinless and confused on the objective and the identification of the threat with the exception being Guiliani's take no prisoners/identify the Islamofascists take Iran seriously brand.

In any case you can take the bass parable a hundred different ways, including arguing that the elder bass wasn't so wise, or that what he did amounted to suicide. Basically the only moral to the story is that like Bass we live and die by our judgements. If we are good at telling the unalloyed worm from the one with the hook we find food and survive, if we keep catching hooks we are at the mercy of catch and release. Sure, the american people might be uninterested in uplift and sure this might be a defensive mechanism, but it is not altogether without wisdom. You catch more flies with Honey as the old saying goes, but if flies were intelligent this would no longer be the case...eventually flies would say forget the honey and give me a lemon, at least I can make lemonade...but the lemon or the bare hook can become as much of a trap as the honey was. Americans are hungry bass, hungry for uplift but skeptical of it, the danger is that anti-uplift can come to serve the same fuction as uplift. Pundits like David Brooks are kind of like bait shops for politicians who are essentially fishermen. Fishermen are not beyond using anything as bait, sure they have their superstitions, but they aren't necessarily afraid to deviate if they get few bites.

John Lewis, I can't let this go by without saying how much I like your fish parable. For some, a hook is a hook is a hook?

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