“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”—Upton Sinclair
Politics and Culture
Before anything can be said on this blog about ideas or issues or policies, we would do well to consider the two frameworks within which all our societal decisions must operate: politics and culture. For our civilization is such that we are constrained by the laws and norms of our time. Of course, we have the power to move these boundaries, but absent such structural change, few brave souls survive outside these walls.
Culture is a topic for another post, so much so that I will address it in great length in my forthcoming book, tentatively titled Sins of the Fathers: A Young American’s Take on the Great Financial Crisis. Politics, on the other hand, is today’s opening salvo. This blog, it should be noted, will focus on issues and ideas rather than the horserace of tactics and personalities, but before we jump into any of that, I must make one important claim: Barack Obama made a strategic error on day one, an error for which he has paid and will continue to pay until the unlikely day when he rights his course. Before we address that hypothesis though, let’s back up to the meme of the week.
Conventional wisdom has it that the President is both bold and wise—taking on climate change, health care, and financial regulation all at once, ever careful not to support too radical a shift on any one front lest he lose the broad support he enjoys for all three. It should come as no surprise then that advocates of reform (on the left and the right) are sounding the alarm that this President who promised change is now settling for weak tea. Seasoned Beltway veterans caution that he is performing a delicate balancing act, the mere specter of which is impressive. The less–than–ideal proposals coming out of Washington, they argue, are a testament to the difficulty of forging consensus among divisive ideologies and competing special interests. Political reality demands moderate reform even if the Obama campaign gave the illusion of something more.
Both sides have fair points. Reform designed to please all parties runs the risk of worsening our problems. A climate change bill that caters to big energy companies may impose costs to the economy that outweigh the environmental benefits. Financial regulation that creates new loopholes may set us up for an even bigger crisis down the road. And yet politics has always been the art of compromise. The ideal reform is worthless if it doesn’t attract enough supporters to make it to the President’s desk.
The Solution: Lobbying Reform
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