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Don’t blame us, we were only in charge at the time

“Yes, you hear constant denunciations of institutions, parties, leaders, donors, lobbyists, influence peddlers. But the starting point of the bipartisan critique is the social, economic and geopolitical wreckage all around us. Bernie Sanders is careful never to blame Obama directly, but his description of the America Obama leaves behind is devastating — a wasteland of stagnant wages, rising inequality, a sinking middle class, young people crushed by debt, the American Dream dying. Take away the Brooklyn accent and the Larry David mannerisms and you would have thought you were listening to a Republican candidate. After all, who’s been in charge for the last seven years?”

Charles Krauthammer.

Of course, for a certain type, criticising Barack Obama for presiding over the messes of the past few years is unthinkable. He was going to make the sea-level drop, remember.  And anyway, what happened was all the fault of Dubya, or “bankers”, or the Chinese.

All this leads me to link to an excellent essay by Gene Healy of the CATO Institute, penned a few years’ ago, called The Cult of the Presidency. The office of President matters far too much than it should for the sanity of Americans, or indeed other parts of the world. It could and should matter a lot less. The very term “in charge” ought to be questioned: we should not treat a country as big and complex as the US, full of people with different aims and ends, as a single corporation under a CEO who is, allegedly, “in charge”.

25 comments to Don’t blame us, we were only in charge at the time

  • QET

    The corporate CEO analogy is, I think, too aseptic to describe this phenomenon. It feels more like Caesarism or its Jewish-Christian equivalent, messianism. I favor the former analogy. The Roman Republic came to an end with Marius and Sulla fighting over the extension of Roman citizenship (sound familiar?). Even if you grant that the republican institutions had already rotted from within, those institutions did not fall down; they were pulled down. After decades of that pulling down, to expect the Roman masses to valorize them and to channel their politics through them again was foolish. The pattern had been established and Caesar only represented its penultimate perfection.

    The analogy is loose but instructive. The American masses seem permanently divided into two broad, contrary camps, are no longer interested in “bipartisanship”, and are not going to re-valorize Congress in their politics (each camp will do so separately when Congress reflects its vision). Ted Cruz may have a lean and hungry look, but we’re not in Stratford anymore.

  • OG Plebmore

    Barack Obama had two terms to destroy America. He was trying. And he still couldn’t do it.

    Trump is nothing to worry about. The train is fine.

  • Matt Moore

    This is over reason why I remain a fan of constitutional monarchy, even though I am a libertarian. The Queen owns the flag. No politician with actual power is able to present himself as the embodiment of the nation.

  • Sam Duncan

    “The very term “in charge” ought to be questioned”

    I cringe every time I hear “world leaders”.

  • Mr Ed

    For the socialist, blame is a corollary of responsibility and also of ownership. Socialists do not like ownership, or responsibility, and to blame people (other than ‘enemies of the People’) for their acts or omissions is wrong, unless they say otherwise. That attitude infects the Zeitgeist.

  • Thailover

    I suspect that the USA is doomed. I don’t mean within my lifetime (I’m 51, my lifetime could end next week), but rather I have my doubts that the USA, as described in the US Constitution, will exist in another 200yrs. Why?

    In short…sheeple.

    The US Constitution is a product of the Enlightenment Period. That is, our “founding fathers” borrowed heavily from Enlightenment Period thinkers. Today, those thoughts are going by the wayside, being pummeled by collectivist think and/or neo-Marxist think. We live in a day and age where “safe spaces” (areas where dissenting points of view are considered “damaging” to hear), take precedence over free speech.

    There are two major power conduits in the world, government and organized religion, and both of them are highly collectivist. ‘Both tout a false zero sum philosophy that suggests that we should tear down and punish the successful and use that acquired booty to help the losers…er, the “unfortunate”. (I guess making serial bad lifestyle choices is considered unlucky). However the truth of the matter is that the rich are not rich because they’re robbing the poor, but rather because they’re CREATING wealth and trading with others who are BETTER OFF because of it. You pay a few hundred bucks for a smartphone because the smartphone is worth MORE to you than the asking price, and the money is worth more to the manufacturer than keeping that phone (they have enough phones). Both sides profit from the exchange. Win-win is not “exploitation”, but bean counters (many semi-socialist themselves) only see cash going from the consumer to the creator and thus inadvertently “widening the wealth gap” and other such nonsense.

    So we have a government today that gives billions to Israel AND “Palestine” at the same time. Yes, we give billions to “Palestine” whilst also calling Hammas a terrorist organization. The world is giving Syrian “refugees” safe harbor even though they’re not displaced by ISIS, but rather ISIS’s enemy, the president of Syria. Both the refugees and ISIS have the same goal, to throw out Assad and put in a religious caliphate in his place. So is it any wonder that many of the refugees are sympathetic towards ISIS if not literally members of ISIS? And now John Kerry is talking about giving “aid” (code-phrase for American tax money) to help Syria and calls for a cease fire. Cease fire? Who are we attacking? Oh yeah, ISIS. Obama would like nothing more than to oust Assad himself, (yes, the same goal ISIS has), AND he’s supposedly against ISIS as well. AND we’re going to give millions if not billions of US dollars to “aid” Syria, when BOTH SIDES are “bad guys”?


    Such collectivist thought is necessarily self-contradictory, and the American people are becoming more and more collectivist in their thinking. We’re being taught that financial success is sinful and exploitative, that it’s “unfair” and “mean spirited” to expect people to earn their keep. That “haves” can be summarized as cheaters of the “have nots”, that we need to be “humble” because pride cometh before the fall, that we need to be like Europe, even though the European economy isn’t worth a literal hill of beans. The loud public voice renouncing these false, fatal ideas is simply not there. The truth is not (politically) correct, and the people who don’t care for the facts are slowly becoming the majority, clamering to become members of polorizing political pressure groups.

    I can see the fall of modern day Rome looming in the far distance.

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    Thailover, the rot is at root philosophical. We are taught increasingly, or urged, not to think, but to emote. Obama, Sanders, Trump, and others are in the business of rage, anger, shouting, sloganising and empathising, not thinking.

    This book by Leonard Peikoff, The DIM Hyphothesis, puts its finger on how this process plays out.

    There is a long way to go, though, and it is dangerous to extrapolate from recent trends and think that these matters play out in a straight line. Consider, one of the symptoms of the current rise of irrationality and intolerance are those “snowflake” students in US and UK university campuses: young people who have already been infected by collectivist, post-modernist drivel at school, told that they live in the most sexist, racist and evil society imaginable (the West), and who instead of studying subjects placing a premium on rigour, graft and effort (physics, maths, Classics, History, languages ancient and modern) study a lot of “liberal arts” subjects that have often been so infected that they do actual mental harm to those who study them, never mind the huge debts of college. On an optimistic note, however some of the best of them will rebel and turn to more rational, reality-based ways of thinking. Rebellion is natural to the young. And who are the establishment people now? Answer: the political correct folk. Those who have gone on about the evils of the West, who have decried reason, science, capitalism and general prosperity are the masters. That bearded guy who drives a fucking Prius, lectures his buddies about whole foods and votes for Bernie is not quite the rebel he thinks, but actually, another conventional thinker. Young, sharp people can spot the humbug and they will push against it. It has happened before. The key is that folk like us must keep making the arguments and not give it up.

  • Thailover

    Mr Ed said, “Socialists do not like ownership, or responsibility”.
    Indeed. Two concepts collectivists would like (make that ‘love’) scrubbed from our languages are ‘responsibility’ and ‘earn’. ‘Earning’ suggests (correctly so) that private property is justice and a right, that I, by right, should own what I earn. Collectivists don’t like it when people “win”, because a system that “allows” (gives permission) for people to win also allows people to choose to lose, and that just won’t do in the eyes of people who tout that “equal means fair”.

    Of course they can’t EXPLAIN why “equal means fair”, since it’s based on irrational primative tribal-think to start with. “Equal means fair” suggests that existing wealth is zero-sum and static, that winners rob and deprive losers, that people who are excellent at what they do should “give back”, as if they took something to begin with. (What did Tiger Woods ever take from me?) It suggests that organizations that produce should be considered “evil”. Sure, they produce what we need to survive, but what have they done for me today BEYOND the goods and services that increased my standard of iving? But, but, but the snail darter, the spotted owl, what are we to make of the fact that climate IS CHANGING, that species are GOING EXTINCT?!
    Well, we should probably “make” that it’s normal for climate to change (that’s why it’s called climate), and that species going extinct tends to be the norm. No species going extinct would be an alarming change of events.

  • Paul Marks

    To collectivists (such as both Mr Sanders and Mrs Clinton) collectivism can never fail. They can stand in the ruins of Detroit (the Progressive “Modal City” specially picked for ultra statist policies in the early 1960s) and still see nothing to blame themselves for.

    If America has terrible problems (and the United States does have terrible problems) government (more government spending and regulations) must be the solution – government can never be the problem.

    Of course the Republicans are not much better than – only one of the Republican candidates is even suggesting getting rid of government departments.

    And that candidate is certainly not someone that Charles K. (a good man – but not someone I rate in terms of domestic policy) would support.

  • john

    subjects placing a premium on rigour, graft and effort

    “Divided by a common language” and… “you learn something new every day”.

    I’ve just discovered that the word “graft” has nearly (not quite) opposite meanings in British and American usage. …probably everybody else already knew, but it was new to me.

  • Jacob

    Government is GOD. Government is wisdom incarnate, Government will solve all problems, Government never fails as it is Omnipotent – it has unlimited power. Government is great. Allahhu akbar.
    And the President is the Government.

  • Thailover

    Jacob, exactly. When “god” fails, one doesn’t blame god, one blames the “sinners” or even accuse the most devout of comming up short. When government is one’s god, then one blames everything other than the failure of government or ones defunct political policies. How many times must ‘rent control’, for example, need to utterly fail before this analytically obvious bad idea die away?

  • Sam Duncan

    “And who are the establishment people now? Answer: the political correct folk.”

    It will take time for that to be generally recognised, but it will be, since its truth can hardly be denied. Leftists of 100 years hence will steadfastly maintain that early 21st-Century Political Correctness, especially in its extreme anti-free-speech manifestations and its mania for banning any activity the New Establishment frowns upon, was a phenomenon of the “right”. The fact that many people and parties supposedly not of the Left have enthusiastically bought into it will make this surprisingly easy for them.

  • JohnK

    One thinks of Aztec priests: if the harvest failed, it never crossed their minds that ripping ever more hearts out of human sacrifices might not be the best way forward. No, it was clear to them: the gods were displeased, and only more and more human hearts would satisfy them.

    Modern societies are increasingly like that, and “progressive” politicians are the guys in the feathered headdresses with the blood soaked obsidian knives. Their solutions are not working, therefore we need more of the same.

  • Thailover

    Johnathan Pearce,
    As you can probably tell, I’m an Ayn Rand Objectivist. (I’m used to saying Ayn Rand Objectivist because if I just said Objectivist, most people wouldn’t know what I’m talking about.) I’ve not read any of Peikoff’s works, but the subject of the DIM Hypothesis sounds like it might be interesting since it’s this subject we’re on right now.

    I hope your optimism proves correct, but the collectivist tribal tendency tends to be rather strong in the human species, and that seems to be the point humanity tends to converge on. In America’s lifetime, we’ve seen the church neutered by the first amendment (Jefferson saw Virginians put in stockades for missing church), and yet the government has simply grown to fill that power vacuum despite efforts to “separate powers”. And acquiescence to authority, with or without reasoning involved, seems to be most of mankind’s willful default.

  • Thailover

    I wrote, “that we need to be like Europe, even though the European economy isn’t worth a literal hill of beans.”

    I should add at this point (should have added it earlier actually) that I don’t consider the UK to be “Europe”, damn any (fucking) international “union” agreement. ‘Personal bias? ‘Probably. ‘Well, yes actually. But the UK will always be the UK and not part of the faceless cogs and huddled masses on “the continent”.

  • AngryTory

    the USA, as described in the US Constitution, will exist in another 200yrs

    The USA as described in the US Constitution hasn’t existed for years.

    For a start: Geo Washington only ever vetoed bills he considered unconstitutional The Supremes are supposed to interpret the law not make it, and the President is not supposed to run government spending (that’s the house) but only to veto laws that are actually unconstitutional!

    Not to mention that the idea of the universal franchise, or a “Democrat Party”, or welfare, is completely anathema to the constitution!

  • Laird

    AngryTory, you’re second paragraph is simply wrong. Please show me where in the Constitution it says that the President is only supposed to veto bills which are “actually constitutional”. Article I, Section 7, Clause 2 includes this pertinent sentence: “If he [the President] approve [the bill] he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it.” Clause 3 contains similar language. In Federalist No. 73, Hamilton writes “It [the presidential veto power] not only serves as a shield to the Executive, but it furnishes an additional security against the enaction of improper laws. It establishes a salutary check upon the legislative body, calculated to guard the community against the effects of faction, precipitancy, or of any impulse unfriendly to the public good, which may happen to influence a majority of that body.” In other words, bad laws.

    The president is supposed to be co-equal with Congress, and it is entirely within his proper powers to veto legislation merely because he believes it is unwise. Washington may have taken a very narrow interpretation (although I have never heard that said before), but if so it was not a necessary one. Remember, he was inventing the office; he was necessarily feeling his way along, and if he chose to tread lightly it’s entirely understandable.

  • Paul Marks

    The basic point remains – the Federal government is massively outgrown its Constitutional limits.

    And the unelected Supreme Court has allowed this – using the words “general welfare” and “regulate interstate commerce” to allow the growth of government. Yes these words have been ripped from their contexts – but such vague words had no place in a legal document in the first place.

    As for rolling back the government – only Ted Cruz wants any real reductions in the size and scope of government.

    Which is why neocon Fox News hates Ted Cruz.

  • Nicholas (Excentrality!) Gray

    I blame Lincoln. Congress really got going when there was a war to be financed. I’m surprised the Pentagon isn’t running the War on Poverty, but it seems to have grown anyway. Lincoln should have agreed to the Southern States seceding, which would have been in accord with the spirit of the Declaration of Independence. Some other way should have been found to free the slaves.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Nicholas Gray,, the secessionist South wanted to leave for various reasons, such as a desire to protect their “way of life” (ie, slavery). It may have been pragmatic to allow secession based on hunch that Alavert was on the way out anyway but that wasn’t all that obvious st the time. The institution could have endured for decades.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Why should Lincoln allow what was at most a transient majority of a restricted class of voters to coerce their U.S. citizen neighbors to change nationality?

    The Declaration of Independence asserts a moral right (endorsed by Lincoln) of the people to change their government by revolution if necessary. But the devil is in the details. Who constitute “the people” that may exercise this right? The inhabitants of any arbitrarily defined area? Or just the majority of such inhabitants? When is such revolutionary change necessary?

    The DoI spoke of “a long train of abuses and usurpations”, and listed many specific examples. Those examples constituted sufficient cause for revolution.

  • Laird

    Rich, your knowledge of the relevant history is weak. The Confederate States (separately) did issue their own “Declarations of Causes” of secession, which were every bit as much a litany of “abuses and usurpations” as those listed in the Declaration of Independence. There really had been a long history of such being perpetrated by the northern states, which were dominated by industrial and financial interests in comparison to the more agrarian south. The south depended very much on the exportation of cotton and other agricultural products, which was hampered by the export duties imposed by the federal government. The complaints of the south were legitimate, and were not merely about preserving the institution of slavery (although that was obviously an important element).

    As to who makes the decision as to when a revolution (or, in that case, a secession) is necessary? There can be no fixed answer to that. In the Confederacy, each of the states held its own convention on the issue, which represented a collection of the entire political leadership of the state. It was as much a determination “by the people” as was possible to attain. Certainly there were southerners who opposed secession, but it seems probable that a majority supported it. Indeed, the percentage of colonists who opposed independence from England was probably substantially higher than the percentage of southerners who opposed secession from the Union. And whatever the merits of their complaints, the fact remains that they had every legal right to withdraw from the Union, which aspiration was stymied by Lincoln.

    The point made by Nicholas Gray to which you are responding is that Lincoln is responsible for the massive growth of the federal government, and he is correct. Lincoln stepped all over the Constitution in his effort to preserve the Union, ignoring the First Amendment, suspending habeas corpus, imposing the first (unconstitutional) income tax, instituting a military draft, and imposing his edicts on states in ways which had never previously been done. We pulled back from much of that after the Civil War, but the seeds had been planted and they really took root in the early twentieth century (under Teddy Roosevelt and, especially, Wilson). It’s been downhill since then.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    It’s certainly true that Luncoln expanded the state to defeat a secession that he regarded as illegal (the US was a nation, not just a collection of states and the causes were complex) but then so did the Confederacy expand its powers, such as the draft. The Fugitive Act was a form of protectionism on a par with northern tariffs. One of the many things I dislike about revisionist accounts of that terrible conflict is how it is just assumed that the growth in the state us all from the Northern side. Please. The South had its virtues, but the motive for seccesuon wasn’t really about freedom. It was about the property rights of Southern farmers and their fears of being outnumbered as Western free states entered the Union (Kansas, etc). it is a pity that the idea of seccesuon has been poisoned by association ith slavery, but the blame isn’t Lincoln’s.

  • Laird

    No, the blame isn’t entirely Lincoln’s, and as you say the causes were complex. And I certainly won’t argue that the Confederacy was any sort of libertarian paradise. But that wasn’t the point of my comment. My point was to take issue with Rich Rostrom’s assertion that there was no moral right to secede, that the decision to do so was somehow forced on an unwilling populace by tyrannical slaveholders whose only interest was in retaining their immoral “property”, and that no legitimate justifications for secession were proffered, as well as his implicit claim that Lincoln did nothing wrong. None of those is true. And whatever the merits of, or justifications for, Lincoln’s actions, it is indisputable that he bears direct responsibility for the leviathan our federal government has become. Would an independent Confederacy have been any better? Not likely, but we’ll never know. Nonetheless, it remains a fact that it was Lincoln who violated the Constitution, not the Confederacy.