by Jack Landsman, Thu Sep 02, 2010 at 11:15:58 PM EDT
One of the most offensive tendencies of beleaguered establishmentarians faced with the utter collapse of their precious conventional wisdom is to bemoan—or to rethink, they might protest—this brilliant representative democracy bequeathed to us by the Founders in unabashedly elitist tones. To be sure, this line of thinking often bears the appearance of innocuous experimental thought but bespeaks, at best, fecklessness, and more likely are signs of intellectual depravity. As a liberal—affected by what may be called trademark self-flagellation—I am wont to focus on this insidious tic when it is found on the left. Conservatives and reactionaries craving for the relative warmth of authoritarianism is, to me, rather unsurprising and therefore barely worth noting. What can we expect from “small-government” folk with a nary a peep to say about the warrantless surveillance of American citizens or the stupid morality of strictly-enforced marijuana prohibition?
I can think of at least three prominent liberals that gave voice to this dangerous nonsense recently—the first of whom is quite brilliant: Woody Allen (Manhattan, Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors—I mean, c’mon!); Tom Friedman, the unfortunate suck-up; and Joe Klein in Time magazine just today.
I had been minding my own business, reading Time’s mild-mannered attempt to explain what has come to be regarded as Barack Obama’s stunning failure as president, when the title “How Can a Democracy Solve Tough Problems?” on the right side of the screen seemed to lunge at me. (Who knew the unlikely symbiosis of ganja and righteous indignation could be that kickass?)
If you asked me, what's the most disappointing thing Barack Obama has done as President? I'd say, He appointed a "blue-ribbon" commission to study the federal deficit. I mean, how boring and worthy and worthless! Such commissions are an instant admission of defeat: We lack the political will to deal with (insert long-term crisis here), so we're appointing a blue-ribbon commission to study it. The process is inevitable, especially in these days of rising partisan contentiousness. A consensus won't be reached on the really tough issues. A high-minded, peripheral idea or two may emerge — frosting on a soap bubble — and then evaporate ... or worse, actually be implemented, as was the 9/11 commission's foolishly redundant suggestion of a Directorate of National Intelligence (DNI), plopped atop the CIA and military spook agencies. No doubt yet another commission will eventually be appointed to study abolishing the DNI.
Let’s rest here for a second. While this represents a digression from our main point here, Joe Klein’s treatment of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform as some sort of passing joke requires special attention and derision. Rather than being a source of amusement, this commission is a sinister assembly co-chaired by former senator Al Simpson (who’s more like the comically evil Creed Bratton than Homer’s dad as far as I’m concerned) and includes the likes of Paul Ryan, the House Republicans’ resident budget wonk. (Yes, there’s only one—and even he demonstrates how carelessly that encomium is bestowed these days.)