San Diego — The sequester — so-called although it is a semantic oxymoron… but then again, it is elected officials we are talking about — is about a week old. Thus far the apocalypse we were told was inevitably descending on us like a financial tsunami has failed to materialize. But an odd dance is now playing out that ought to tell everyone willing to watch and (dare I say it?) THINK, just what kind of stuff our leadership is made of… and how badly it smells.
After the administration started making a career of complaining loudly and with a degree of pathos that makes a dog begging at the table seem disinterested, that due to this Draconian and unthinkable axe, critical governmental activities would be curtailed, the House offered a Bill to allow the president to be more flexible in picking and choosing what would get cut so long as the final tally was undisturbed. Sounds reasonable.
But he reacted as if they has offered him the hot end of a branding iron… which of course is what they did by calling his bluff. If accepted, he would now have to publicly be seen not only as the author if the idea in the first place, which he was, but now would be seen as the person picking and choosing. That is a task guaranteed to make no one happy even though it offers the best opportunity to date to selectively get rid of the financial weeds while hoeing around and sparing the good stuff. Worse it means he would have to make a public decision and stand by it, unable to vacillate and worm out of it with his prodigious rhetorical abilities.
At first blush though his response makes absolutely no sense. Despite the PR danger attached, if he wishes to fundamentally transform America as he says clearly, this is probably the best chance to do it. If he is truly an enlightened leader then he would jump at the chance to demonstrate his nearly superhuman wisdom in a way to make the ghost of Solomon writhe in envy. Even his economic God, Keanes wrote that the way to bring down a government was economics and the debauchery of the currency and Obama is doing both. So why not go all-in and make it clear what you want to kill and what you want to protect? After all, he claimed the almost 2% majority that voted for him was a “mandate” of biblical proportions for his policies.
But Thomas Sowell — a real economist — wrote the disturbing answer in his own blog. And it is as frightening as it is ugly, mostly because it has that inescapable ring of truth to it that can only be associated with politics. With apologies to Dr. Sowell since I do not have it in front of me, I’ll paraphrase it but the gist is the same.
He wrote of an exercise he used to give his students in which they were to imagine a government bureaucracy that was created and, over time, evolved into having two activities under its charge (neither of which was the original intent but then, hey, it is the government and it is a bureaucracy). The first was to feed hungry and homeless children. The second was to build statues in parks across the land to Benedict Arnold trying to change his image and pointing out that before his little indiscretion, explainable easily to an self-entitled populace, that he was a hero, a brilliant strategist, and that despite that, he was passed over unfairly and so therefore justified in changing sides in mid stream and treasonous stabbing his country and his benefactor in the back. And both activities of this agency were working just fine, getting lots of government money to keep them running, and a cadre of desk-bound bureaucrats fed and coddled.
But then the budgets were slashed by the evil opposition and they would have to curtail one of the activities. But which one? The children or the statues? The students, after a careful examination of other governmental decisions, came to the only politically savvy conclusion: stop feeding the children.
What? What kind of cold-hearted wretches could come to such a stance? Politicians and bureaucrats sadly find it a no-brainer. You cut the kids because that does two things in the agency’s benefit. First it makes an emotional case against the cuts per se, and second, that humanitarian cause is valid and needed so sooner or later the money will be returned.
But if they cut the statue activity, too many people will look at that, wonder why we were EVER spending money on such a hare-brained scheme, and kill that activity forever. THat is death to a bureaucrat.
Now if you have been paying attention to the news and the government’s responses to the budget cuts, this ought to start making a sort of malevolent and highly Machiavellian sense. Good ol’ Nicollo wrote in “The Prince” that now and then the Prince needs to turn the dogs loose on the people so they will be so grateful when he calls them off.
Meantime, the lack of national collapse is not escaping attention and is instead calling attention to all of the cries about impending doom and disaster as being, perhaps, a bit hyperbolic and, worse, political gaming. That, of course, cannot go unpunished. So I would expect to see, using the story example above as a metaphor, more starving kids’ programs being very publicly cut and the other side more roundly blamed for it so the current Prince can make everyone so happy when he “convinces” the spineless opposition to capitulate and give him the money he wants.
And then, just as Maciavelli predicted for Lorenzo de Medici, the people will feel gratitude and once again line up behind his banner no matter where it is actually leading them.