The notion that “the voice of the people is the voice of God” is the paper currency of representative democracy. There is no gold behind it, and its essential worthlessness was exposed even by the first man known to have used the phrase in writing. That was Alcuin, writing to Charlemagne, at the end of the eighth century. His advice to this ruler was, “Don’t listen to the people who say that.”
In one sense alone, “the people are always right,” just as the Pope is infallible. That is to say, there is no further appeal in this world.
The herd instinct; the madness of crowds; the general state of ignorance which everyone believes to have existed until the day before yesterday, when rather it persists—these should be adduced on the other side. I solemnly believe that any normal person in full possession of the facts will come to an astute and reasonable conclusion on any matter. I also solemnly believe that no such person is ever in full possession of the facts. And that the sheer quantity of facts is increasing daily.
Genius is often required, even to guess what’s really happening, and genius lights in one person at a time. We should actually seek such light, and cherish it wherever it appears. Don’t listen to the herd: listen for the prophet.
While I think he would make a very defective religious prophet (and I think he would agree), Charles Krauthammer strikes me as the closest we have to a genius on the Washington political scene. Though marked as a “conservative,” as most intelligent commentators are, he comes to his own conclusions, regardless of party. He appreciates that the views of the people are sometimes wise, and sometimes foolish. That alone suggests more subtlety than is usually available in our media.
I want to draw attention to his Washington Post column, which appeared Friday. It flies in the face of all accepted thinking about the “tax relief ” issue, currently at the forefront of most political minds.
Media reporting reinforces the general view that the Democrats are pro-tax (especially on the rich), that the Republicans are anti-tax (for everyone), and that the Republicans, having cleaned up in the midterm elections, are pressing President Barack Obama into making concessions he doesn’t want to make.
Obama, in this caricature, is the bull; John Boehner, the House Republican leader, is the toreador; and his lancers are sticking a bull who becomes increasingly enraged and disoriented. Cue to crowd roar.
But as Krauthammer observes, the bull is winning. In return for tax cuts not much in excess of what the Democrats were willing to agree to anyway, and which remain temporary in principle, the Republicans offer “sweeteners” that amount to a whole new stimulus plan. He calculates that between the cuts and the sweeteners, an additional near-trillion-dollar hole will be blown through the national accounts. This to be patched, presumably, by more borrowing from China. It is effectively a “Stimulus II” piled on the “Stimulus I” that no one wants to defend any more.
In this scenario, Obama is a very clever political operator. By allowing his hand to look forced, while rhetorically blasting what White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs called the “professional left,” he is accomplishing two things.
Though a man of the left himself, he intentionally alienates his left flank, to recapture the centre of the political spectrum. Meanwhile, he is setting the Republicans up to take the blame for the fiscal squalor, while they are voting him the cash to go on an additional pre-election bender.
This is as clever as nationalizing the U.S. health system, by turning private insurers into regulated agencies of the government, instead of taking them over outright—preserving the appearance of capitalism while creating the reality of socialism.
My worst fear about Obama, expressed long before his election, was not that he might turn out to be a complete boob. Indeed, that was closer to my fondest hope. My fear was instead that he would turn out to be a brilliant political operator, in the manner of a certain Joseph Philippe Pierre Yves Elliott Trudeau. A man who, once in power, could divide and conquer to stay there.
Cue to old videos of Trudeau sneering at all the “bleeding hearts;” or at the myopia of our own professional leftists; of him delivering the line, “Zap! You’re frozen!”
Trudeau not only tacked rhetorically to the right at the approach of each election; he suckered his political enemies into doing his dirtiest work, such as persuading the British Parliament to hold its collective nose and pass his questionable constitutional “patriation” with its Trojan Bill of Rights. A master of cunning, both low and high.
How often we thought Trudeau was finally cornered. How consistently he proved us wrong.
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