Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Rising to the Occasion of Calling Us to Rise to Equality

Pete makes a persuasive case below that the world of center-right punditry and right-leaning wonks needs to rise to the occasion presented by the passage of the health care legislation and provide detailed, scrupulous, and tightly woven arguments to persuade the people that the path presented in it is not a path rising to the idea of American justice and equality but, rather, a downward spiral falling into a different, undesirable, and unsustainable form of equality; one that will end up resulting only in an equality of misery.  Pete thinks it is unwise and dangerous to wait for a "savior figure" to come and make these arguments for us in a presidential or some other electoral context:

I think that the initial job of selling conservative approaches to health care will have to be a decentralized approach in which dozens and dozens of center-right elites make it a mission to explain health care to the public on many different platforms over of period of years. 

I find it difficult to argue with Pete, so I won't.  And, anyway, I agree with him.

But I will say that there is a hint in what he says (if not exactly a stated and firm opinion) that appears to give a bit of short-shrift to the level of statesmanship we are finally beginning to see emerge on the Republican side of the aisle--to say nothing of the even more impressive (and cheering) levels of goodness and wisdom we're seeing in the resistance of the people at large.  This is not to say that there aren't problems (and many, many potential problems) in the sometimes untutored rhetoric of decent and well-intentioned people.  But to the extent that good people can be persuaded, moderated, and encouraged to believe in their own ability to rise to the level of equality our Republic is designed to perpetuate, it's probably not the egg-heads Pete discusses who are going to do it.  Pundits, academics, elites (whatever those are) and wonks are all well and good--and they have their uses.  But (welfare reform notwithstanding) let us not forget that making persuasive arguments to the people at large in a politically mobilizing way doesn't usually number among them.  Those folks he describes are far better at talking to and amongst themselves--not that there's anything wrong with that.  (No, seriously . . . there's not.)

Somewhere along the way, however, the gap has got to be bridged.  One way or another, we have to--if not exactly depend upon--then certainly at least accept the role of chance in this.  We have to pray that someone (and, preferably, a few someones) rises to the occasion and to the opportunity to speak persuasively to his friends and fellow citizens.   It may be that a few of the sort Pete wants to see step up will emerge from their ivory towers and discover that they've got a common touch.  I hope so.  But that seems to me to be just as dependent upon the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune as is waiting for a statesman to emerge from a gaggle of politicians.  But I see signs of hope on the horizon.

Chance can't be mastered.  But maybe it can be encouraged.  And it may also be that our Republic, more than any other in the history of mankind, is constituted in such a way as to encourage the kind of chance I'm talking about.  There is something in us as a people and in the nature of the Republic that seems to call forth the kind of people we need at precisely the moment when it is desperately necessary. 

If the recent offerings of Paul Ryan may be used as evidence, I'd say we're beginning to see them emerge now.  People are weary--oh, so weary--of this constant talk of health care, mandates, insurance, premiums, Medicare donut hole, deficits and so forth.  We don't want someone to come at us with more of  this detailed back-and-forth talk to confuse and befuddle us--everyone senses that there is something, ultimately smacking in partisan BS in all of this talk, and from whatever side of the aisle it's coming from.  Enough, already.  We want someone who can get to the point and make us understand in very clear terms what, precisely, is at stake.  Of course the man to do this has to be smart as a whip on the details . . . no one who understands the accomplishments of Lincoln or Churchill could ever dispute THAT.  But God help us if he starts talking on that level in any other context than to smack down his naysayers in debate.  Spare me the boring speeches on the virtues of medical savings accounts . . .

Ryan gets that.  Here's a sample:

The passion against this intrusion goes beyond the mind-numbing numbers. Health care affects each of us in an intimate and personal way. The American people's engagement is driven by our deep aversion to the federal government's unprecedented reach into our lives. The entire architecture of this overhaul is designed, unapologetically, to give the government greater control over what kind of insurance is available, how much health care is enough and which treatments are worth paying for . . .

. . . The proponents of this legislation reject an opportunity society and instead assume you are stuck in your station in life and the role of government is to help you cope with it. Rather than promote equal opportunities for individuals to make the most of their lives, the cradle-to-grave welfare state seeks to equalize the results of people's lives.

Categories > Politics

Discussions - 2 Comments

Julie, you are right, and I do give some honorable people like Ryan and wonks like Levin, Capretta, and Salam short shrift. Its just that Ryan isn't enough (and for thirty, forty, fifty Paul Ryan - though all with somewhat different policy proposals) and the wonks don't have the megaphone to reach the broad public. That means that part of the popularizing of those ideas will have to come from people who have shows that people watch or listen to. Part of that means that the people who have those ideas will have to go on the interview shows and explain those ideas over and over again. I think that the initial challenge is to create a base of people in the public who have some idea of how these policies will work. They will talk to their friends who watch different shows or don't pay much attention to the news. You are right that statesmanship enters into it, and little will be done without at least some statesmanship, but before that happens (or maybe at an earlier stage) they key is to get enough people to understand enough about the policies so that a person espousing them don't sound like they are threatening to kill you in a foreign language.

I agree that talking about HSAs can be really boring, but no more so than talking about the macroeconomic effects of capital gains tax cuts.

Yiikes!!! That first sentence should end with PUBLIC.

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