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August 03, 2011

The Progressive Crisis

Walter Russell Meade has another long piece, this one examining Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg's assertion that while the majority of the public supports Democratic policies, they don't trust Democrats to actually put those policies into place; Greenberg claims the public agrees with the public on the Democratic liberal agenda, but is merely cynical about the liberal Democrats' execution and implementation of the approved agenda.

Is that it? It is true that if you ask the public if they want more free stuff, they say yes.

But that has always been a rather stupid way to ask the question. During the ObamaCare debate, Democrats and the media (but I repeat myself) always pointed at polling results for smaller bits of ObamaCare: The public wants some more options, like a public one. The public wants young adults covered on their parents' policies until they are 30 or 40 or who knows, 50. The public wants an end to pre-existing conditions.

What the Democrats and the media refused to pay attention to was the public's disapproval of ObamaCare. When asked about the full package of ObamaCare, they said no.

In other words, asked about elements of ObamaCare out of context, the public wanted such things; but asked the critical in-context question of "Do you want ObamaCare?," i.e., the benefits as well as the costs, they said no.

Consider this analogy: Ask me if I'd like a very top-line sportscar. I'd say yes. Ask me if I'd like to do 0 to 60 in under 4 seconds. Yes again. Ask me if I'd like road-gripping $3,000 racing tires. Yes, I do. Ask me if I'd like that turbo charged. Yup.

Okay, I said yes to all of those things. So, if I want all of those things, why do I not own a Ferarri, or a Corvette?

Answer: Because you didn't ask me if I'd be willing to pay $150,000 or at least $70,000 for them. You didn't ask me about all elements of the bargain at once -- including price.

Because no car dealer is actually offering me these things for free. He's offering me a car in exchange for $70,000 or $150,000, and I may wish to keep that money for other purposes. (In fact, I might not even have that money at all.)

So to just ask this laundry list of "Do you want...?" is as absurd as the conclusion that every man in the country must own a Corvette or Mustang or refurbished Jaguar Mk. II simply because he agreed, in the abstract, that the things you were talking about sounded nice.

They did sound nice. I genuinely want those things. But I don't have the money, and if I did, I'd spend that money on other things which I want more.

This is actually an age-old sales technique. Wouldn't you like to provide for your children in the case of your death? Wouldn't you like the peace of mind of knowing that your children's welfare is assured? Etc.

But just because you answer yes to each of those questions does not mean you want the product being offered (life insurance, in this example). Because the salesman keeps delaying asking the highly relevant question of "Would you like to spend $150 a month for this product?"

I mean, that's the actual sell here. That's actually closing the deal, if you get a yes to that question. All the other questions were bullshit, intended to put the potential customer in a positive frame of mind.

The actual question, the only one that matters, is Are you willing to pay X amount of dollars for this Y product I want to sell? Everything before that is customer-greasing and bluster.

When Democrats and the media (but I yet again repeat myself) parse these smaller-item agenda points and ignore the larger, in-context question of whether the public wants these things enough to pay for them with forcible extraction of payment through taxation, they are deliberately fooling themselves, convincing themselves of a pleasant fiction because the actual reality ("the public doesn't want to pay for this crap") is too uncouth and uneducated for their liking.

Anyway, Meade considers Greenberg's various Community-Based Reality claims and rubbishes most of them in this excerpt:

Greenberg has not yet come to grips with the deepest and most difficult aspect of the crisis of liberal legitimacy. He roots the dangerous and corrupting special interests outside the state: with their money and their lobbying the corporations and the fat cats influence and pervert the state. But the state and its servants do not, in Greenbergís story, constitute a special interest of their own.

This is not how voters see it. For large numbers of voters the professional classes who staff the bureaucracies, foundations and policy institutes in and around government are themselves a special interest. It is not that evil plutocrats control innocent bureaucrats; many voters believe that the progressive administrative class is a social order that has its own special interests. Bureaucrats, think these voters, are like oil companies and Enron executives: they act only to protect their turf and fatten their purses.

The problem goes even deeper than hostility toward perceived featherbedding and life tenure for government workers. The professionals and administrators who make up the progressive state are seen as a hostile power with an agenda of their own that they seek to impose on the nation.

This perception, also, is rooted in truth. The progressive state has never seen its job as simply to check the excesses of the rich. It has also sought to correct the vices of the poor and to uplift the masses. From the Prohibition and eugenics movements of the early twentieth century to various improvement and uplift projects in our own day, well educated people have seen it as their simple duty to use the powers of government to make the people do what is right: to express the correct racial ideas, to eschew bad child rearing technique like corporal punishment, to eat nutritionally appropriate foods, to quit smoking, to use the right light bulbs and so on and so on.

Progressives want and need to believe that the voters are tuning them out because they arenít progressive enough. But itís impossible to grasp the crisis of the progressive enterprise unless one grasps the degree to which voters resent the condescension and arrogance of know-it-all progressive intellectuals and administrators. They donít just distrust and fear the bureaucratic state because of its failure to live up to progressive ideals (thanks to the power of corporate special interests); they fear and resent upper middle class ideology.

Progressives scare off many voters most precisely when they are least restrained by special interests. Many voters feel that special interests can be a healthy restraint on the idealism and will to power of the upper middle class.
The progressive ideal of administrative cadres leading the masses toward the light has its roots in a time when many Americans had an eighth grade education or less. It always had its down side, and the arrogance and tin-eared obtuseness of self assured American liberal progressives has infuriated generations of Americans and foreigners who for one reason or another have the misfortune to fall under the power of a class still in the grip of a secularized version of the Puritan ideal. But in the conditions of late nineteenth and twentieth century America, the progressive vanguard fulfilled a vital and necessary social role.

The deep crisis of the progressive ideal today is that it is no longer clear that the American clerisy is wanted or needed in that role.

Another example of focusing on the sales pitch and not the sale itself.

You can ask your average person: Do you wish people would exercise more? Take more of an interest in their health? Stop eating too much? Stop smoking? Stop drinking so much? Stop gambling away their kids' college funds?

Of course the answer is "yes" to all of these (for most respondents).

But again that's just the sales pitch, not the actual offer.

Give them the actual offer and most will say No. Because the actual offer is:

Do you wish to empower a cadre of busybody bureaucrats, who frankly are largely mediocrities at best, but believe themselves to be chosen for greatness, to boss you around your whole life, in order to make sure some other people aren't eating french fries and having a cigarette?

The real answer is "NO!," because the real answer is, "Look, sure I want other people to live better lives, but frankly, I don't care very much about that and I'm sure not paying for my own personal censor to scold me for making "bad" choices."

See, that's the cost. And if you ignore the cost, you're not talking about business, or sales, or politics, or anything.

You're just talking about fantasy wish-lists with no connection to any physical reality.

And you're a fucking idiot.


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posted by Ace at 05:23 PM

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