Opinion: 2013 not a good year for progressives

December 29, 2013


— This report on the State of Conservatism comes at the end of an annus mirabilis for conservatives. In 2013, they learned that they may have been wasting much time and effort.

Hitherto, they have thought that the most efficient way to evangelize the unconverted was to write and speak, exhorting those still shrouded in darkness to read conservatism’s most light-shedding texts. Now they know that a quicker, surer method is to have progressives wield power for a few years. This will validate the core conservative insight about the mischiefs that ensue when governments demonstrate their incapacity for supplanting with fiats the spontaneous order of a market society.

It is difficult to recall and hard to believe that just three months ago some conservatives, mirroring progressives’ lack of respect for the public, considered it imperative to shut down the government in order to stop Obamacare in its tracks. They feared that once Americans got a glimpse of the law’s proffered subsidies, they would embrace it. Actually, once they glimpsed the law’s details, they recoiled.

Counterfactual history can illuminate the present, so: Suppose in 2012, Barack Obama had told the truth about the ability of people to keep their health plans. Would he have been re-elected? Unlikely. Suppose in 2012, Chief Justice John Roberts, instead of rewriting the health care law to save it, had been the fifth vote for overturning it. Would Obama be better off today? Probably.

Franklin Roosevelt, emboldened by winning a second term in 1936, attempted to pack, by expanding, the Supreme Court, to make it even more compliant toward his statism. He failed to win congressional compliance, and in 1938 he failed to purge Democrats who had opposed him. The voters’ backlash against him was so powerful that there was no liberal legislating majority in Congress until after the 1964 election.

That year’s landslide win by President Lyndon Johnson against Barry Goldwater, less than 12 months after a presidential assassination, left Democrats with 295 House and 68 Senate seats. Convinced that a merely sensible society would be a paltry aspiration, they vowed to build a Great Society by expanding legislation and regulation into every crevice of Americans’ lives. They lost five of the next six and seven of the next 10 presidential elections. In three years we shall see if progressive overreaching earns such a rebuke.

In 2013, the face of progressivism became Pajama Boy, the supercilious, semi-smirking, hot-chocolate-sipping faux-adult who embodies progressives’ belief that life should be all politics, all the time — come on, everybody, spend your holidays talking about health care. He is who progressives are.

They are tone-deaf in expressing bottomless condescension toward the public and limitless faith in their own cleverness. Both attributes convinced them that Pajama Boy would be a potent persuader, getting young people to sign up for the hash that progressives are making of health care. As millions find themselves ending the year without insurance protection and/or experiencing sticker shock about the cost of policies the president tells them they ought to want, a question occurs: Have events ever so thoroughly and swiftly refuted a law’s title? Remember, it is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

From Detroit’s debris has come a judicial ruling that the pensions that government employees unions, in collaboration with the political class, extort from taxpayers are not beyond the reach of what they bring about — bankruptcy proceedings. In Wisconsin, as a result of Gov. Scott Walker’s emancipation legislation requiring annual recertification votes for government workers’ unions and ending government collection of union dues, more than 70 of 408 school district unions were rejected.

This year’s debate about the National Security Agency demonstrated the impossibility of hermetically sealing distrust of government to one compartment of it. Worries about the NSA’s collection of metadata occurred in a context of deepened suspicions about government because of this year’s revelations that the administration has corrupted the Internal Revenue Service, the most intrusive and potentially the most punitive domestic institution. Conservatism is usually served by weariness of government.

The prophet Al Gore has given many hostages to fortune and this year fortune shot another of them. In 2008, he predicted the North Polar ice cap would be gone “in five years.”

Finally, a regularly recurring fever of progressive indignation about the name of Washington’s professional football team again waned without success, which means Oklahoma will not have to change its name. “Oklahoma” is a compound of two Choctaw language words, “okla” meaning people, and “homma” meaning red.

— George Will is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


Ken Lassman 4 years, 3 months ago

Looks like George is staying on the climate change denier bandwagon for a while longer. Given the increasingly bleak scientific data, the deniers (and thus George) have switched from examining the evidence to attacking the messenger, in this latest salvo, Al Gore. Of course, Al is a politician and not a scientist, and thus prone to speculation and getting ahead of the curve of evidence. Thus the denier industry uses his "5 years" statement to obscure the fact that the arctic is melting at a faster rate than even the most dire model predictions indicated it would as recently as 2008.

Here's a nice depiction of what the data is showing:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9OBCXW...

And here's what is closer to what the scientific consensus is saying these days: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G4BPOE...

Ken Lassman 4 years, 3 months ago

The point to remember is that despite pot-shots from an small group of denialist advocates, there is no comprehensive alternative theory to the scientific consensus that adequately explains the ever-increasing stream of data from a wide variety of sources: ocean heat, sea surface temps, combined land and sea global atmospheric temps, stratospheric temps, land ice mass, sea ice volume, sea level, ocean acidification, rising atmospheric CO2 composition, solar irradiance, volcanism, planetary albedo, etc. The models used continue to be refined to reflect new data and new analytic variables/scales, and the results are more nuanced but clearer than ever that climate change is real and human activity is the major driver of the changes currently going on.

Are there still uncertainties? Of course. My sense is that vertical ocean heat transfer is still in the early stages of understanding, the dynamics of cloud/water vapor/albedo is still not completely understood, and of course global energy consumption patterns are far from being certain. Others probably have an even better idea of what we need to better understand, but I don't see anything out there that is going to be a game changer in our understanding that will result in our overall conclusion that we have changed the climate and the window of opportunity for us to mitigate even greater changes is rapidly closing.

Ken Lassman 4 years, 3 months ago

I mentioned this as an issue in my statement above--still attached to the same conclusion that an improved understanding and modeling algorithm is unlikely to make new insights in to the dynamics of water vapor a game changer. The most recent info I'm aware of on this topic can be found here: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2012/05/plugging-the-leaks/

There may be more recent updates to the topic than that--feel free to share any additional updates that you've run across.

Wayne Kerr 4 years, 3 months ago

"Counterfactual history can illuminate the present" could be anti-progress party slogan for the next presidential election. Can you imagine what the world might be like if the anti-progress party put forth their own ideas instead of just opposing the other party's initiatives? Could you imagine what the government might be like if the anti-progress party told us exactly what they stand for instead of focusing so narrowly on all that they are against?

"It is difficult to recall and hard to believe that just three months ago some conservatives, mirroring progressives’ lack of respect for the public, considered it imperative to shut down the government in order to stop Obamacare in its tracks." Really George, is your attention span that short? It's hard for you to believe that the anti-progress party (some conservatives, ha, ha) would use the nuclear option and shut down our government rather than compromise with the opposition? You're right about the anti-progress party, "They are tone-deaf in expressing bottomless condescension toward the public and limitless faith in their own cleverness."

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