Monday, April 14, 2008

Two Stupid Ideas

Tibor R. Machan

Time for morning exercises! One will involve repairing some bad thinking on Barack Obama’s part, another trying to fix the mental mess on the part of a columnist for the New York Times who wants to fix the housing mess with a $25K federal grant to first time home buyers.

As to Senator Obama, he told a Pittsburgh audience that when he gets to be president, he will not be working for special interests and lobbyists but for the people. Talk about confused elitism--are those special interests, like farmers, union members, doctors, patients, students, professors, truck driver and such not among the people? Are they frogs or geese or what? For the umpteenth time: the people are made up of all those who belong to the special interest groups, period.

Now it is not entirely Senator Obama’s fault that he gets away with this kind of doubletalk. His audience gave no sign of protest, no criticism of his silly ideas but just sat in awe of him, never mind what he said. With that kind of constituency why should a candidate work hard at making any sense at all? Just babble on, without rhyme or reason, in a tone of know-it-all, and they’ll gobble it all up, the gullible bunch that they are. They may even elect you precisely because you sound so bright as you befuddle them all with your nonsense. Maybe that’s what the people believe we need for the presidency.

Now as to the suggestion that the feds provide a $25K grant to first time home buyers, how about making it clear that the feds do not have any funds to give out. No, they must first extort the funds from citizens, take a good chunk of it for themselves--do folks even have a clue now many perks those guys in Washington get--and then hand a bit of it back to some of the people. The feds have no funds they do not first take, or that they borrow against the work of members of future generations. None!

But columnists and journalists across the country keep writing and talking as if the federal government were some kind of productive and rich person or organization that made lots of money and now has the option to give some of it away, like Bill Gates. All that is a fraud. The feds confiscate that money and keep some and then give it to people who they hope will keep them in office.

Are these notions too difficult to grasp? I cannot believe that. Many of my college and university students over the last four decades have been able to understand this take on how government works--it is one among several that we cover in the political philosophy course I teach. And they know well enough that this is one interesting, probably even correct, way to see politics in our day. But then why do they become blinded when they read the apologists for reckless federal largesse?

Similarly, I have had many students who understand that there is no such entity as “the people” but only a bunch of individuals and groups of individuals with various agendas they’d like politicians to support at other people’s expense. Yet maybe after they learn that idea in college they become afflicted by stupidity, by the crazy hope that they are both part of “the people” as well as members of the evil special interest groups, carrying on some endless fight between the two parts of themselves.

Of course, there are many ideas students encounter during their higher education, including the post-modernist notion that logic and reason are obsolete methods by which to figure out the problems people face and that it is best to just embrace some form of magical thinking. Yes, you can be both “the people” and a member of one of those nasty special interest groups. You can both be and not be, all at once, all the same way.

Nonsensical thinking is ancient--folks like Heraclitus and Cratylus promoted it in ancient times and today it’s certain European and American pseudo-philosophers who peddle it fast and furious. So is it any wonder that our leading politicians get away with laying such stuff out for the voting public?

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