Two of the world’s leading conservative polemicists just happen to have written on the failings of the political class at the same time. With robust results.
The occasion was the State of the Union address. Set aside the conservative attack on President Obama’s “sonorous, gaseous banalities” and consider the concern over the general political unwillingness – across party lines – to face or communicate hard decisions.
James Delingpole nails the disillusionment that the thoughtful experience when facing the non-delivery of major reforms, and the non-communication of the need for them.
I think we have now reached that stage of last-days-of-the-Roman-Empire intellectual and moral depravity where almost no one in our dominant corporate/political/financier/lawyer class believes it’s worthwhile or even possible to do the right thing any more. Some of them may be vaguely aware that, yes, the only way the world is ever going to recover from the economic mess we’re in is through a radical agenda of cost-cutting, contraction of the state, sound money, and lower taxes. But they’ve made up their minds that none of this is a votewinner in our heavily socialised Western economies and that therefore the only hope is simply to grab what you can while you still can – and forget any fancy, idealistic notions you may have had about making the world a better place.
Mark Steyn covers much more ground but shares concern over the emptiness of political institutions, action, and communication:
like Beyoncé lip-synching the National Anthem at the inauguration, the State of the Union embodies the decay of America’s political institutions into a simulacrum of responsible government rather than the real thing, and a simulacrum ever more divorced from the real issues facing the country.
Let not it be seen that only one side of politics is responsible. Delingpole talks of Conservative PM Cameron, Steyn of Obama. (update: Delingpole is referring to the SOTU, informed by his criticism of the Cameron government)
And just as in Australia, the loony and the levelling leap left and drag the the more fashionable on the right with them. Steyn refers to the budget, but in Australia the metaphor applies equally to the role of government, social and cultural issues, and the acceptable extent of intervention in people’s lives.
Washington “moves forward” like a pantomime horse lurching awkwardly across the stage and with the Republicans always playing the rear end. A “bipartisan” agreement means that the Democrats get what they want now and Republicans at some distant far-off date.
But most of all it is the core political culture – and the political class at the centre of it – that strangles any capacity for major change, budget or otherwise.
Under Magical Fairyland budgeting, Obama-sized government “shouldn’t” increase our debt. Yet mysteriously it does. Every time. Because, in a political culture institutionally incapable of course correction, that’s just the way it is.
The irresponsibility of the persistent vote-buying from the Gillard government needs no comment. The politicisation of Treasury and its forecasts needs no comment. The expansion of the public service, tax burdens, welfare dependency and workplace regulation needs no comment. All precisely the opposite of what is needed if one takes a century-long perspective.
Thankfully the Coalition has a much stronger history of budget correction than either of the conservative parties in the UK and US. The ALP has none, quite the reverse. Yet there is evidence in some states that the current generation of the Coalition political class is succumbing to what both Delingpole and Steyn identify.
The last thing the nation needs is a ‘kick-the-can-down-the-road’ do-nothingness on the budget, regulation, welfare, education, cultural norms and attacks on liberal institutions. Far too many are comfortable playing a combination of Santa Claus and caring uncle with other people’s money, and by restricting other people’s choices.
Far too many are unwilling to get into a public debate about core issues. Far too few are willing to communicate and educate on the need for change. Instead we get piecemeal, surprise policy changes -poorly communicated- that create furore and often result in a backtrack.
A degree of tactical reticence is appropriate and understandable in Opposition. Particularly when faced with a misrepresentation-machine as well developed as the Left’s.
But in an age screaming out for reform, when elected leaders adopt small target strategies, we are in real trouble.