When Bad Ideas Collide…

People ask me: “How do you come up with all those cool blog posts?” Not really.

But one surefire way is actually to do kind of a large-hadron collider (it should be the super-bozon collider, given most of what I read, but there are no bozons in physics, sadly…just bosons) and just slam one thing I read into another and see what kind of connection comes out.

With that as a preface, let me collide two things I read today: Thomas Frank’s column about the American slander on elites in the WSJ, and an article on the EU’s latest scheme to pull power away from those pesky people.Here’s Franks:

Well, now the main events of the ’60s are 40 years behind us, and still we can’t shake them. In the last national election, we redebated the Vietnam War. In the one coming up, we will be forced to debate Barack Obama’s not-even-tenuous connection to the Weathermen. (We will probably not be asked to judge the poisonous legacy of the Young Americans for Freedom, although McCain adviser Charlie Black was actually a leader of that group.)

We can also be fairly sure of the word that will be used as the demon decade is again wheeled out: elitism. In the ’60s-as-remembered, the conflict that overlays all the others from that period was between ordinary, hard-working Americans and the privileged kids who went to fancy schools where they learned to disrespect the American flag and call the police names. Like the ghost of Archie Bunker, this peculiar class war has appeared over the years whenever some well-polished liberal is in need of a comeuppance.

He ties the resentment to kind of a hollow American consumerism, and the striving driven by a kind of Babbitry which Nixon channeled so well.

Yes, this culture is elitist. Just walk down the aisles of your local, union-free organic grocery, unutterably cool but way beyond your price range. Or stroll through the most upscale shopping district of your city, where you might notice the fake-shattered windows favored by one national retailer, evidently trying for that ’60s look while not losing any stock to actual looters.

Yes, it’s offensive, too. It’s meant to be that way, to remind you always that you are not hot; that you’ve bought the wrong brand; that the vanguard is way ahead of you; that, with your organization-man craving for health benefits or job security, you probably need to be fired.

Then again, there’s this news from Europe:

The European Union assembly’s political establishment is pushing through changes that will silence dissidents by changing the rules allowing Euro-MPs to form political groupings.

Richard Corbett, a British Labour MEP, is leading the charge to cut the number of party political tendencies in the Parliament next year, a move that would dissolve UKIP’s pan-European Eurosceptic “Independence and Democracy” grouping.

Under the rule change, the largest and most pro-EU groups would tighten their grip on the Parliament’s political agenda and keep control of lavish funding.

Simply put, the elites that run Europe – where you move on an assembly line from elite school to elite college to professional school to Brussels – want to keep those messy “folks” from breaking their iron rice bowl.

I wrote about my own similar experiences back in grad school:

While I was there, there was a small controversy that I followed. It involved the effort of the student government to evict from the student union one tenant, and to replace it with another. This is to me, the perfect example of SkyBoxing, and I hope that telling the story will help define what I mean.

In the 60’s in Berkeley, there was a movement to create a series of co-ops that would allow student-radicals to both generate jobs outside the hated-but-paying-their-rent capitalist system, and provide a living example that (for all I know) Trotskyite anarcho-syndicalism could triumph in the Belly of the Beast.

Most of these communal businesses failed mercifully quickly, as far as I know (this is all ancient history to me, so if I’m getting part of it wrong, drop a note). By the time I got there, there were two survivors ‘ Leopold’s Records (‘Boycott Tower Records, keep Berkeley Free’) and the Missing Link bicycle shop.

Leopold’s was off-campus somewhere near Telegraph, but the bicycle store was a part of the mini-shopping area that was in the ASUC building.

The student government decided that they were going to evict it to make room for a small-electronics (Walkmen, stereo, calculators, etc.) annex to the Student Store. Why?

The small-electronics store could pay as much as $50,000 more in rent every year.

Now this is an appropriately cold-hearted landlord kind of decision to make. But the people making the decision weren’t sweater wearing conservative Young Republicans, driven by their vision of the purity of the market.

They were a bunch of New Left, ethnic-identity, progressive communitarian kind of kids.

Why did they want to make this decision? Because it would mean $50K a year more for their organizing budgets; $50K more in pork they could carve up in the hopes of building their perfect communitarian future.

Now I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time imagining anything more keyed to a progressive communitarian future than a cooperatively owned bicycle store. I mean, how much better does it get? Nonprofit. Cooperatively employee owned. Bicycles, for chrissakes. If you really wanted to educate people in alternatives to the ‘mass consumerist repressive capitalist paradigm’ (I think I got the buzzwords right), wouldn’t that be a good way to do it?

But reality couldn’t stand a chance against the cold need for this elected group to make sure that they and their friends were rewarded.

If that’s the face of future liberalism, count me out. It doesn’t have to be, and it’s my intention to try and make sure that’s the case. I wonder if we can contribute to Irish election campaigns? From the story on the EU:

The row over the new EU Treaty meanwhile took a new turn yesterday after José Manuel Barroso, the Commission President, warned Irish voters that they will “pay” if they reject the document in a referendum next month.

Speaking in Brussels on Monday night, Mr Barroso attempted to head off growing opposition to the Treaty by threatening outcast status for Ireland.

“If there was a ‘No’ in Ireland or in another country, it would have a very negative effect for the EU. We will all pay a price for it, Ireland included, if this is not done in a proper way,” he said.

Officials fear that advanced plans to create a new EU President, Foreign Minister and European diplomatic service will be sunk by an Irish referendum rejection on June 12.

The new Lisbon Treaty replaces the old EU Constitution that was rejected by French and Dutch voters three years ago. While the other EU member states, such as Britain, have successfully evaded popular votes, Ireland is constitutionally required to hold a referendum and Brussels dreads a repeat of the 2001 Irish rejection of the Nice Treaty.

Yesterday, Paddy Power Plc, Ireland’s biggest bookmaker, rung alarm bells by following the opinion polls to cut the odds of a referendum rejection by half – from 4-1 to 2-1.

9 thoughts on “When Bad Ideas Collide…”

  1. No, that is the future of Liberalism. Wealthy elites spending on stuff that they care about (save the Polar Bears!) and exerting control over every aspect of ordinary people’s lives. Only one square of toilet paper per visit!

    Plus of course the iron rice bowl as you say. Creating a “landless gentry” in various liberal institutions: media, government, unions, various government supported NGOs, etc.

    Money spent on that stuff cannot be spent on things ordinary people want: public safety, more infrastructure, etc. The days of FDR are long gone. So is his coalition.

    Obama wants foreigners OK to eat, or drive, or set your AC. We must all be bilingual or tri-lingual. This is part and parcel of his appeal — to elites and would-be elites who’s greatest horror is being mistaken for an ordinary person. After all, if ordinary people can have nice things too, what’s the point of being rich? [Courtesy Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy.]

    But it’s basically a budget fight. What dollars spent for whom? Save the polar bears by making everyone poorer? That’s the essence of Liberalism (and the Green Religion).

    The dog not barking in the night-time is the complete lack of any massive pump priming proposals to put people back to work and/or pump up wages by infrastructure WPA-type programs. Because that sort of thing is not in the interest of the elites. Only ordinary people.

  2. Before I attended Cal we lived in Germany – my father worked for IBM on a project in the Soviet Union (the Russians didn’t want the foreigners living in the People’s Paradise, and frankly we weren’t all that hot on it either). I recall that the big boss of the factory where Dad was consulting visited the US before Dad got the assignment – presumably to check out the work Dad had done before they assigned him to work on this project.

    The Soviet Boss had a great life – every material thing was provided for him, but it was all “in kind” so that he couldn’t save any of it and had absolutely ZERO ability to say “F— You, I Quit, I will live off my savings” because, of course, he had no savings.

    Such is the people’s paradise – from each according to their ability, to each according to their need (at that moment in time – you will forever be pleading to the state for your survival).

  3. The Left never wishes to be reminded of what they have wrought nor what they have done. The poison of the sixties still haunts them and Obama’s connection with those sixties terrorists and communists is something the Left just hates being exposed much less discussed.

  4. Lucky Irish, they are allowed to vote the EU treaty. British weren’t.

    The Continental European elites thought that the one hundred years experiment on democracy was over after the Great War and the revolution in Russia. The civil conflict in Spain just seemed to confirm that.

    British and American troops, and a few misfit Europeans, changed this evolution. However, those elites survived as a barrier against Communism and have remained profoundly un-democratic (and generally anti-American), protected by a welfare state that it is simply a way of buying wills and avoiding independent challengers to arise.

    This is the explanation of Europe’s stagnation.

  5. What does Franks have against YAF, that he feels the need to call them “poisonous” in the context of pooh-poohing Obama’s second-degree association with the Weathermen? Was there a bombing campaign in YAF’s Goldwaterite past with which I’m not familiar?

  6. Mitch, I would imagine he’s referring to the following (from Wikipedia):

    “However, some members had sympathy with the conservative Southern Democrats known as Dixiecrats . . .”

    Since the Dixiecrats in the 60s were segregationists and Franks is pretty obviously left of center, I would imagine the “poison” he’s talking about is their sympathy with racists, although it didn’t apply to the organization as an organization and there is no history of violence that I know of. I wouldn’t put that in the same catagory as bombing, robbing armored cars, and murder, but then I’m not left of center.

  7. I know this doesn’t exactly fit here, but every time I think of elites, I think of a great John Stewart “sketch”:http://www.thedailyshow.com/video/index.jhtml?videoId=166074&title=gaffe-in

    For these comments, scroll to the 7 minute mark (although making fun of hillary taking shots starts around the 4 minute mark).

    Doesn’t elite mean good? Isn’t that something we’re looking for in a candidate anymore?

    I know elite is “bad word” and you want to go bowling and throw back a couple of beers…

    But this job you’re applying for, if you get it, and it goes well.. THEY MIGHT CARVE YOUR HEAD INTO A MOUNTAIN.

    If you don’t actually think your better than us, than what the #*(#@! are you doing!

  8. bq. If you don’t actually think your better than us, than what the #*(#@! are you doing!

    Sounds about right. I suppose the objection is not to elitism _per se_, when a person believes their skills or qualifications are superior to the average; but to the sense of elite _entitlement_, where one feels they have some superior claim to wealth, power, prestige, etc because of membership in some rarified club or demographic.

    Hillary Clinton and John McCain should not feel entitled to the nomination just because they paid their dues to the party for decades; Obama shouldn’t feel entitled to the job just because he is this month’s charismatic “great white hope” on the left. All three should expect a tough fight and intense scrutiny, instead of expecting voters to take their rhetoric at face value without critically examining their positions (or lack thereof).

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