*Sigh* One Last Time...
How Badly Off Is Our Government?

John Holbo Reads Micklethwait and Wooldridge

John Holbo reads Micklethwait and Wooldridge's The Right Nation:

Crooked Timber: A few days ago I finished The Right Nation, by Micklethwait and Wooldridge, a pair of "Economist" writers. Perhaps you recall their June 21, 2005 WSJ op-ed: "Go to a meeting of young conservatives in Washington and the atmosphere crackles with ideas, much as it did in London in the heyday of the Thatcher revolution. The Democrats barely know what a debate is." Well, the book is not such a polemical and high-handed affair.... It's worth reading, like an Economist article, but affords many irritations to the non-conservative reader.... All in all, they don't belly up to the bar and drink the conservative kool-aid, but they do take many a debonair, pinky-raised sip. Then, on p. 159-60 these Brits do some Texas-style kool-aid bong hits....

Discovery is also the leading proponent of an increasingly influential idea on the Right: "intelligent design."... Most orthodox scientists dismiss intelligent design as upmarket creationism. But books and papers spew out of Discovery's Center for Science and Culture.... The intelligent design movement is an example of the Right's growing willingness to do battle with what it regards as the liberal "science establishment" on its own turf, using scientific research of its own. Right-wing think tanks have attacked scientific orthodoxy on stem cells... poured over the data on global warming.... There are also battles brewing on animal rights, euthanasia and the scientific origins of homosexuality.... So far the science establishment has given little ground to the conservative upstarts.... But the Right is clearly extending the battle of ideas into new territories, just as Milton Friedman and others did in economics forty years ago.

Puts the "crack" back in "crackle of ideas", you might say.... There isn't any intellectual quality control in... [Micklethwait and Wooldridge's] assessment... But... if you are going to count any effective rhetoric as "winning the war of ideas"... then you ought to just 'fess up that you mean "winning the culture war", which sounds less intellectually high-toned....

Ah, if only the Democrats remembered what a debate is: namely, an expression of populist ressentiment at perceived cultural elites. It really is very shameful that these British Tories, who I don’t suppose believe in ID, find it sufficiently amusing that liberalism is taking kidney shots from these people that they are willing to check their intellectual consciences at the door, for the sake of ‘enemy of my enemy is my friend’. (Who doubts this is the reason why Southern theocrats and economic libertarians are under the same tent? Who thinks they are really staying for the rigorous arguments, across their respective positions?)...

One last passage from Micklethwait and Wooldridge:

Here it is worth making a subtle distinction. Bush's enthusiasm has generally been for business, particularly big business, rather than for the free market. His own career was a textbook example of Texas crony capitalism, characterized by a succession of takeover deals in which outside investors with ties to his father periodically stepped in to save one floundering oil company after another. Arbusto Energy became Bush Exploration, which merged with Spectrum 7, which merged with Harken Energy. Bush's equity magically increased in value, despite a dismal oil market. Then in 1990 he sold 212,000 shares in Harken stock for $848,560 to pay for his investment in the Texas Rangers baseball team. Construction of a spanking-new ballpark in Arlington was subsidized by an increase in the local city sales tax. This sort of buddy capitalism is hardly the stuff of Harvard Business School case sudies. Yet Bush still saw himself as a businessman, and his base has always been the business class. Texas was an ideal state for such a politician because the state's campaign-finance laws placed almost no limits on contributions. In his 1994 and 1998 gubernatorial campaigns, more than half the contributions came from corporate executives (including hefty contributions from Ken Lay, the boss of Enron). And he eventually used his business connections to create the most successful fund-raising machine in presidential history. (p. 142)

It is worth pointing out that the difference between the free market and cronyism is not really subtle -- and getting less subtle by the minute, as the resumes of FEMA executives rise to the surface of the floodwaters.... [Today Newt] Gingrich argues that the values debate that has divided America so sharply during the past decade is over.... "We're not in a values fight now but over whether the system is working.... The issue is delivery."... The very notion: that government might be subject to intelligent design! After 40 years in the wilderness, conservatives seize control of all the levers of the government only to realize that the liberal consensus was right all along?...

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