Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

In Which Megan McArdle Shares Her Wisdom

Little Miss Can't Be Wrong has an opinion. Hark! Let's listen!

“The civil service will interpret a Donald Trump presidency as damage and route around it.” That was the recent consensus at one of those infamous Washington dinner parties that so repulse Trump fans. (What can I say? We in Washington also have to eat. And while we do, we talk about politics.)
Isn't it cool how any dinner party in DC can be called a "Washington dinner party," as if movers and shakers have come to dine on white linen and silver, when the reality is mediocre libertarian pundits eating frozen chicken legs.
The line, of course, was a play on a gleeful old hacker credo: “The Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” But it was offered in earnest, and on reflection, I think it’s correct. The primal appeal of a Trump candidacy (evidently lost on a plurality of Iowa caucus-goers) is that he doesn’t care about what Those People think -- you know, the time-servers and chair-warmers, the establishment snobs and the RINO sellouts. Other folks may go to Washington and get seduced into the corrupt bargain by which virtue and resolve are exchanged for money and power, but not Donald Trump. He’ll say or do anything to Make America Great Again.
Since Trump has said that he often traded favors and made deals for money and power, virtue is not a factor in his popularity. Trump says he'll win any deal and whatever he does will be successful, not that he'll "do anything" to make America great again. McArdle has two types of arguments: wonk-heavy but simplistic explanations that were almost certainly fed to her or stream-of-conscience gut reactions like this one.  For the sake of this argument, McArdle has decided that Trump attracted voters with his moral purity. The next argument--who knows? Consistency is the hobgoblin of the unpaid, not propaganda pros like McArdle.
And these people have a little seed of a point in there. Conservatives do go to Washington with a certain fire in their bellies, and settle down into multi-decade careers with something more like a night light. Not one of those really powerful night lights, either, the kind you use to light the way to emergency exits. This is more like a five-watt bulb, well-shielded. Grand promises are scaled back to modest tax credits and budgets that grow government spending at 0.8 percent a year, instead of the 1.6 percent that Democrats demand.
This is creating her own reality on a grand scale. Democrats "demand" growth not jobs. Politicians make it to Washington as innocent as a daisy. The elite don't create the rules, siphon off the wealth, and control the masses. Conservatives are all principled, it's just the system that gets them down, man.
I myself have been accused of selling out to the Washington Consensus -- not because my views on most things have changed since I moved here from New York City, but because I made mad concessions like suggesting that it wasn’t a very good idea to shut the government down all of a sudden. What these critics miss is that we insiders, we establishment lackeys, have not given in to the siren song of intimate policy briefings and Georgetown cocktail parties. We have surrendered to something even more formidable: reality.
Mrs. Megan McArdle is not an insider. She is not part of the Establishment. She is a lowly servant, a hired hand. She's the parlormaid Bridget, not Peggy Noonan. Lying becomes habitual so I also must doubt that she has been to many Georgetown cocktail parties. Her readers are immoral and stupid with ideology. They accuse her of selling out when they disagrees with her and condescendingly praise her when they do not.
What you realize when you get to Washington is that the kind of wholesale change the revolutionaries imagine is not possible. No, please don’t inundate me with quotes from Admiral Ingram and John F. Kennedy. People do dream of a better Washington, and sometimes fight for it, and occasionally win significant victories.
In Buffy The Vampire Slayer (work with me, people), the very first evil ever created in this world was a disembodied voice that spoke inside the heads of its victims, telling them that they were weak and helpless, that they were bad and wrong, that sacrifice through murder and suicide was their only option. It was tremendously successful but it was only a voice. It couldn't do anything but persuade, convince others that it was right and they were wrong. An authoritarian structure must convince you to submit to it. It must tell you over and over until you do not even question the structure of your society in your mind.

McArdle doesn't want revolution because it would destroy her income stream and source of ego-gratification. She knows Americans aren't touched by much of the world's suffering and cannot imagine that that would ever change. Wholesale revolutionary change is possible. Our government started out that way. We threw out the monarchy, built a military, established a different form of government.

The structure of our lives is (mostly) safe and comfortable and nobody wants to make any revolutionary changes. Most of the changes we have experienced lately have been bad. Revolution is not a benign word, it means suffering and death and the more you have to lose, the more you want to keep the present structure.

But social and population upheaval, starvation and death is possible and will happen and already has begun in some parts of the world. We can either control the revolutionary changes or we can let a leader control them. So far we have been doing the latter, with disastrous results.

We are betting our kids' futures that America is too exceptional (that is, rich and powerful) to suffer. Is America so powerful that bigger storms and rising coastal water won't affect it? Are we so rich that we can feed the masses on billionaires' largess? Are we sure that it will take a couple of generations before Americans are affected by the changes in our world?
But they do so within very tight constraints. Even Roosevelt had his expansive visions substantially curtailed by the courts, and by resistance from ordinary Americans who simply refused to go along; even Reagan ultimately made little progress at cutting down the overall size and scope of government, and at best modestly curtailed its expense.
Reagan lowered the top tax rate from 70% to 28%. Mission accomplished.
This is the reality: Most of what you want to do to Washington won’t get done -- and neither will much of what you want to get done outside of it, if you insist on taking Washington on.
It is her reality that you are expected to live in, for her personal convenience. McArdle goes on to say that everyone wants the government to do everything but tax them and of course Washington can't be everything to everyone. Therefore, nobody can do anything ever.
This makes people think that Washingtonians don’t care about them. This is false. Washingtonians do care. It’s just that they seem to have misplaced their magic wand.
People talk about feelings when they do not want to talk about facts.

McArdle goes on to explain that politics is compromise and the civil service is filled with people who pick and choose which government tasks they will or will not do based on their feelings, no doubt. And most of all, Trump will be nothing but a disappointment to his followers for he cannot navigate the Labyrinth any more than anyone else.

Nobody can do anything. Vote for Rubio. Nobody can do anything. Vote for Clinton. Sanders will never be able to get enough money to run for president. Sanders will never win if he runs. Sanders will never get Congress to work with him if he wins. Congress will work so much better with Clinton.

Maybe. Or maybe Congress will start the impeachment proceedings before she's sworn in.

The problem with picking the lesser of two evils is that you end up with evil no matter what and you start to believe nobody can do anything ever.

Sanders probably can't win.
Clinton will probably be like her husband, punishing the poor and rewarding the rich.
Trump is unspeakable.
Cruz is Nixon lite.
Rubio is a moron.

It's evil all the way down.


bulbul said...

Wholesale revolutionary change is possible. Our government started out that way. We threw out the monarchy, built a military, established a different form of government.
And by 'we', you mean a bunch of rich businessmen, right?

The problem with picking the lesser of two evils
I don't understand this framing, I really don't.
I am not surprised that people around me think that way, because I still remember the wave of incredible optimism that swept my native country when the Iron Curtain came down - hell, one of the mottos of the 1989 revolution was 'Now the lost control over our own affairs has returned to us' - and the romantic ideas they had about democracy and politics under a non-totalitarian political regime. It took about 5 years (or one election cycle) for most people to wake up from that dream and realize that the us the lost control has returned are a bunch of rich businessmen (most of them with ties to previous regime's secret police). But they still remember the dream and so every election they proclaim they are tired of voting for the lesser evil and demand a leader who would *really* represent them, someone honest, someone who shares their beliefs, someone who understands their plight. Each election cycle they get one and each time it takes about two days (i.e. until the start of the inevitable coalition government formation talks) for said leader to reveal themselves as a money-grubbing idiot, racist and hypocrite, i.e. a politician. So I understand my compatriots' naitive, but I don't understand when complaints about the lesser evil come from Americans, especially those - not to put a too fine point on it - old enough to remember Nixon and Reagan. I thought you'd have understood by now that you end up voting for the lesser evil because that is the nature of the process and has always been, in your case, since the very beginning. If you prefer to frame it that way, fine - the whole democracy thing is a lesser evil, it sucks, but it's - for the most part - better than the alternative. I prefer to see it as better than the alternative and apply the same process to voting.

Susan of Texas said...

I will get used to it in time. It takes me a while to adjust. I grew up with all the usual propaganda about Americans' greatness and my father died "defending" the country so I tend to expect Americans to fight for what is right, whatever that may be. It is childish to expect people to be better than they are.

Anonymous said...

Susan of Texas said...

McArdle certainly did get a lot of practice. She seems to love flinging bullshit for its own sake as well.

fish said...

Now I have the Spin Doctors in my head.

Clever Pseudonym said...

I have to laugh at all her "we insiders" claims. I imagine DC is like any other city, where people at dinner parties talk about art, sports, their families, etc. Another instance where Megan thinks she looks like the cool kids but just comes off dull and arrogant. Most people in Washington have lives and jobs that are not related to politics, so when Megan says "we" she really means "me and my cronies," which I suppose is all that matters to Megan.