Tuesday, October 30, 2007

THE CRANNY STATE. A large percentage of Americans fear the country is going in the wrong direction. At the New York Times, the conservative David Brooks makes lemonade. Since other polls show that Americans are optimistic about their own lives, Brooks posits a "gap between their private optimism and their public gloom" which favors less, not more, government intervention:
Sixty-eight percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track. Sixty-two percent think that when government runs something, it is usually inefficient and wasteful. Sixty percent think the next generation will be worse off than the current one. Americans today are more pessimistic about government’s ability to solve problems than they were in 1974 at the height of Watergate and the end of the Vietnam War...

These voters don’t believe government can lift their standard of living or lead a moral revival. They want a federal government that will focus on a few macro threats — terrorism, health care costs, energy, entitlement debt and immigration — and stay out of the intimate realms of life. They want a night watchman government that patrols the neighborhood without entering their homes.

This is not liberalism, which inserts itself into the crannies of life. It’s not conservatism, suspicious of federal power. It’s a gimlet-eyed federalism — strong government with sharply defined tasks.
Cute. The "few macro threats" are actually quite large. How might gimlet-eyed Feds address them without getting into the crannies of life? Since the liberals are all about the crannies, and since this is David Brooks, I'm guessing conservatives are the intended audience. At National Review he finds a couple of takers. First, Yuval Levin:
Republicans are far better positioned to speak to this combination of attitudes, on a range of issues (like health care, where exactly this combination of attitudes seems to be at play; or a broader array of subjects where speaking to optimistic strivers about large problems could pay off).
Following Levin's links, we find his health care prescription involves "reform of the way health insurance is taxed, more control for consumers in how health care dollars are spent, and more flexibility for states to use Medicaid funds to help the uninsured." This solution is all crannies: more "flexibility," tax breaks, and "market pressures." Good luck beating the Democrats with that!

The Luval "array" is about family issues, and how conservatives must "set the tone," show a "better understanding how anxiety about caring for one's children and one's elderly parents keeps people from taking the risks that allow a dynamic economy to flourish," and declare long-term care for the elderly as "not a crisis... as much as it is a challenge," and "encourage long-term care insurance and to reward family caregiving for the elderly." (Since Luval is dead set against any socialistic wealth transfers, I assume the "reward" would consist of a pat on the back from a local clergyman and an Army bugler playing "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow.")

Policy-wise, you can stuff all of this in an exceedingly small cranny.

As usual, Jonah Goldberg just makes everything worse:
If voters are happy with their own private lives and merely want government to defend them from big threats, I would not bet too heavily on the woman who says America can't afford all her ideas. If Americans are happily cocooning in their families, I wouldn't bet too heavily on the woman who has declared that America must move beyond the idea that there's any such thing as someone else's child. If Americans are disgusted with public corruption and cynical politics, than I would not bet too heavily on anyone named Clinton.
And if wishes were horses, beggars could ride. I'm no fan of Clinton's, but she or any other Democratic candidate could devolve his or her health care plan to free band-aids and aspirin, and the conservative counterproposals would still look flimsy to any voters worried that a change in job status plus an appendectomy might land them in the poorhouse.

I guess this is what Reaganism has come to. Once upon a time, when doctor's visits were cheaper, maybe a chuckle from the Great Communicator could unleash the natural optimism of Americans and put cares away. I doubt the flutey laugh of David Brooks (or the jovial snarl of Rudolph Giuliani) will accomplish as much.

UPDATE. In comments, R. Porrofatto points out that Brooks is full of shit on the polling data, too. I'd like to say that dog bites man is not news, but I was in fact too lazy to look into it.

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