Monday, September 15, 2008

It's the Philosophy, Stupid!

EzraKlein Archive | The American Prospect:

The challenges facing our financial system today are more evidence that too many folks in Washington and on Wall Street weren't minding the store...I certainly don't fault Senator McCain for these problems, but I do fault the economic philosophy he subscribes to. It's a philosophy we've had for the last eight years – one that says we should give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. It's a philosophy that says even common-sense regulations are unnecessary and unwise, and one that says we should just stick our heads in the sand and ignore economic problems until they spiral into crises. Well now, instead of prosperity trickling down, the pain has trickled up – from the struggles of hardworking Americans on Main Street to the largest firms of Wall Street. This country can't afford another four years of this failed philosophy.

Play it again, Sam, because what Americans don't get is precisely this: that when they cast their ballots, they're voting for a philosophy--not for a plumber.

When I chat about politics, to fellow Democrats as well as Republicans, I'm struck by the extent to which they imagine voting is hiring someone to do a job rather than choosing ideology and policy. They want someone who's honest, experienced, competent and, if possible affable--someone who will pay attention to them and clean up the shit, that is, a plumber.

There's nothing controversial about plumbing--no competing theories of toilet repair or washer replacement and no disagreement about what constitutes a successful job. And when it comes to plumbing, fancy degrees and credentials don't matter: you sure don't want some high-powered hydraulics engineer who can't operate a pipe wrench or is too hoity-toity to clean up the shit. You want a guy who can do the job. And of course, you want a guy who is honest. You don't want a plumber who will claim to discover all sorts of problems that aren't really there and soak you for all you're worth "fixing" them.

Politics is controversial in all the ways that plumbing isn't: it's not only controversial how to achieve various goals--it's disputed what goals are desirable. But Americans, chanting the mantra that both parties are the same, don't seem to get that. And they also don't seem to get the idea that when it comes to running the country vast bodies of theoretical knowledge as well as practical competence and plain, brute intelligence are of vital importance.

So even in economic hard times, even in the teeth of foreclosure, unemployment and the drain of fighting an unpopular war, a substantial minority of Americans will vote Republican because they see their troubles as a consequence of professional incompetence rather than the failure of a philosophy. Bush was a bad plumber, but plumbing is plumbing.

I doubt that a president has all that much to do with running the country. Voters choose their preferred ideology by voting for one of the major political parties. The technocrats, bureaucrats and secretaries who run government formulate and implement policies consistent with that ideology--which is why I'd be perfectly happy to vote for a yellow dog running on the Democratic ticket. Of course, George W. Bush claimed to be The Decider. But I'm skeptical about that since if he really were, things would probably be even worse.

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