Rhetoric and the Republicans

E.J. Dionne relaxes at home.

Professional twit E.J. Dionne has a piece today which, true to his raison d’être, attacks republicans for using the “rhetoric” of small government.

Their passion is not for what government should or shouldn’t do but for “smaller government” as a moral imperative. During the campaign, they put out a nice round $100 billion in spending cuts from which they’re now backing away. It is far easier to float a big number than to describe reductions for student loans, bridges, national parks or medical research.

Fair point. So far, with the exception of Paul Ryan, the republicans have been woefully unspecific about what to expect going forward. We have a general idea that they plan to cut, but no indication where the axe might fall. How good of E.J. to jump all over these slackers, with an article published on their first full day in office! CALL THEM OUT SIR.

But the media also have a responsibility. If journalism in a democracy is about anything, it is about bringing the expansive rhetoric of politicians down to earth and holding them accountable for how their ideas translate into policies that affect actual human beings.

Sounds good, but what I think he’s actually saying is that the entrenched media should gear up for anecdotal manipulative stories. Because, as everyone knows, if a wasteful, corrupt or stupid program gets cut, the people who availed themselves of it have an entitlement to their stupid, wasteful or corrupt proceeds. How dare anyone threaten that.

There is nothing wrong with reading our Constitution as part of the new Congress’ debut. It’s a good Constitution. But note that conservatives would much prefer to pronounce various liberal initiatives “unconstitutional” — again, in the abstract — than to say whether they are for or against minimum-wage and environmental laws, Medicaid and a slew of other initiatives that never crossed the minds of those who wrote our foundational document. The Founders couldn’t conceive of Facebook, either.

This is why the Constitution is limited to enumerated powers, and not a prescription for a perfect society. If Thomas Jefferson couldn’t foresee something, what hope do John Boehner or Nancy Pelosi have?

Intelligent legislators know that human beings sometimes cut corners. They recall what James Madison, another conservative hero, said in Federalist 51: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” As Madison knew, men aren’t angels, but the professors in Congress seem to believe that another great abstraction, “the free market,” can obviate the need for messy and complicated statutes.

And that is why E.J. Dionne is such a massive, astounding, overwhelming tool. Because he can sit down, and lie to you with his words. He’s somehow implying that somehow legislation and regulation, conceived in Washington, by men and women who will never meet the people whom their ideas effect, is somehow more practical, less idealistic, and less error-prone than people engaging in transactions or arrangements with other people, all of whom have vested interests in the outcomes of their plans and deals.

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