Posted by Peter Lawler
Dr. Pat Deneen suggests that the honorable McCain enourage the American people to take personal responsibility as one of the causes of the present crisis and resolve to live with great self-restraint, frugality, and concern for our ecological future in the broadest and most anthropocentric sense. I actually think a litte of this would be edifying and might work in the broader context of a praise of American productivity.
9:24 AM / September 26, 2008
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A very little bit. It is certainly true that many Americans have spent and borrowed way too much. But it is also true that alot of Americans work very hard, don't have much, and are worried about keeping what they have as unemployment goes up, energy prices stay high, and the credit markets dry up. Telling that second group of Americans that they need to tighten their belts is a slap in their collective faces. Even worse, that second group is the swing constituency in this election. Its okay to attack greed, but the attack must not be seen as an attack on reasonable (and quite humble) hopes for upward mobility by those who have not been doing that well lately.
This is true, of course. But I think it's clear that when you live in a country of businessmen constantly offering you credit (and I don't know how many credit offers I got in the mail as an undergrad), there's a lot more to be condemned here (as you seem to elude to, but don't really directly say).
Not to mention conspicuous consumption is the foundation of a great deal of our entertainment, and seems to me to be the contemporary foundation of the "American dream" as understood by, at least, my (20-something) generation, by-and-large. That's really sad, but I don't know if it can be fixed by just promoting "self-restraint." I wish.
There is a lot of popular sentiment now that the responsibility for the current crisis can be shared by many , including the American consumer..still, McCain has to be sure to point this out without hectoring, without demanding that we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps...there's a lot to recommend about an honor-driven candidate verus a therapeutic one but McCain has a hard time showing the kind of empathy that inspires confidence in his stewardship of the American people through painful, anxious times......and he should point not only to the many ways in which dem policies created this prediciament but also the hollowness of Obama's pandering on this score....
I meant a very little bit. Whatever the opposite of exaggeration is.
Most preposterous idea I have heard in a long time. Every liberal drools for this kind of moralism. For them it means you can't complain if taxes are massively increased, otherwise you as a normal American are being greedy, just like Wall St. and Franklin Raines types.
Maybe Dr. Pat knows lots of people who are living the high life. Personally most people I know are struggling even now to pay off mortgages, send their kids to decent private schools because the public schools don't know how to teach good citizenship or reasons for faith in God, and to save a few dollars for their family's future.
Dr. Pat's recommendation amounts to abandoning these concerns in the face of an economic crisis brought about by the liberal welfare state...and will end up expanding the regulatory/high tax policies that have now fallen upon us.
I remember a few preachers from the right after 9/11 telling Americans that our own lax morality had brought God's wrath upon us. Self-flagellation isn't the right response to great crises. What is needed is essential policy reforms that will restore freedom and initiative to America's markets. Given the right conditions and incentives, yes, to earn and rise in the world, Americans have never failed to respond by hard work. Moralism is no substitute for economic opportunity.
I was asked to write what McCain *should* say. This can be interpreted a couple of ways - what he *should* say as a matter of political expediency, or what he *should* say to say something that the American people could benefit from hearing. I went with the latter. Obviously, if you're giving him advice for what he should say to win, he'll probably need to say something different. But I think Peter's right that he should try to incorporate more of his "country first" and appeal to honor into current discussions. At the very least, he'll look slightly less hapless. And it might even have some educative force.
Ivan, Peter: Yes a VERY little bit of this, as Peter says. And Ivan is exactly right that McCain's weakness is that he "has a hard time showing the kind of empathy that inspires confidence in his stewardship" and this is why Palin was such a masterful choice. He would be terrible and "inauthentic" trying to do things that seem "therapeutic" and no one would buy it. What he should do, instead, is to act like a tough but golden-hearted coach who exhorts his athletes to give their very best. He can be hard-nosed and unforgiving sometimes, sure. But at bottom you know he's on your team and he's rooting for you. He only seems gruff because he knows his team is capable of so much more. In the end, he speaks to them about their heritage, their duty to live up to it, the sterner stuff their made of, their unflagging capacities, and their indomitable spirit. He brings out the best in them. No one worth a lick can resist being inspired by such a coach. If he tries the "I feel your pain" route it will trigger a national gag reflex. How can a man who has been tortured and imprisoned and permanently disabled as a result possibly be moved by the "pain" that ails us? We ought to be ashamed to suggest that he should.
Is it really obvious that McCain saying what "should" to be said for the benefit of Americans is something other what would be politically useful? What would be seen as politically expedient to the rest of the country? I mean not to the news media and the chattering class. I keep hearing - from all sorts of people not just my conservative small town neighbors, but even the (often very liberal) faculty of my community college - the longing for real talk about political problems. I have gotten to asking "What is 'real talk'?" No one has a good explanation, but politically expedient talk is not at all part of what they long for.
Aye Kate, well said! Look I am not even worried about quite a bit of moralism. In point of fact I am not in the least bit offended by Dr. Deneen until he goes and gets arrogant with his truth vs. political expediency dualism, in part because I am not sure he is absolutely right. So when he sets it up as his best opinion on what should be said, well it takes on too absolute of a truth value when opposed to a fraudulent political expediency. My advice to Mac: Let your aye be your aye and your nay be your nay...
On one level what Dr. Pat says is right. People should not expect easy money and most people cannot live out dreams of avarice and would not be happy even if they could. There is probably even a large constituency that would be relieved to hear such a message if it is framed rightly.
My concern is that what Dr. Pat along with what I have read from some other conservatives (I'm thinking of James Poulos' peice on Culture11 who was writing about hipsters) is the sense of resignation that our long march of rising living standards may have hit a long-term snag and that we might need to find ways to accept or even celebrate it. Maybe the days of rising living standards are over but if they are it won't be a good thing. If people perceive the economy as stangnant, the wealth pie not growing, and upward mobility blocked, envy will bloom. If people can not much improve their living conditions through work, they will try to do so through politics. Over the long term, this will benefit the more statist, more redistributionist party.
Conservatives should not adopt a right wing version of the 1970s limits-to-growth philosophy. There are of course limits to growth, but there is also room for rising living standards. Conservatives need to heavily balance the hard truths (you shouldn't borrow more than you can pay back, commodity bubbles burst)with reasonable hopes for rising living standards and an emphasis on policies that will help hardworking decent people attain reasonable but real improvements in their living conditions.
Pete, do you mean accept or celebrate as in, "Look how people became nostalgic about the Great Depression. It must have been wonderful, except for the soup lines. Let's go for another one of those; it would be so good for the national character! The children of the Great Depression were the Greatest Generation and we sure could use something great just about now." Would that sell?
And yet, yes, somehow we DO need to teach Americans how to live rightly so that they can live better. Americans live with an astonishing amount of envy, already. Isn't this why we live in a debt-culture and why people live beyond their means? Understanding hard economic truths and living in reality would help people improve their living conditions in the long run.