The Idiom

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Beware the Rule of "Experts"

Kid Various has been to the countries where political power has been put into the hands of experts.

It never turns out well.

Christ, this article just drips with condescension:

Here's a radical suggestion: Barack Obama should pick the smartest people he can find for his cabinet. Brilliance has sometimes been a criterion in presidential appointments, of course, but seldom the major one. It usually takes a back seat to rewarding supporters, playing congressional politics, seeking diversity and appeasing interest groups. Presidents always place a high premium on personal loyalty.

Obama can't avoid such considerations. But it makes sense for him to give greater weight to intellectual acumen and subject-specific knowledge than his recent predecessors have, both because of the depth of the problems he faces and because of his own style as a thinker and a decision maker. Bush, whose ego was threatened by any outburst of excellence in his vicinity, politicized all policy and centralized it in the White House. Obama is intellectually confident, enjoys engaging with ideas and inclines to pragmatism rather than partisanship. He can handle a Lincolnesque team of rivals or a FDR-style brain trust. And he's going to need one.

Written by an elitist journalist directly for an elitist audience. Nice job on the psychoanalysis on President Bush. The Kid is guessing that the journalism degree now requires 60 credits in cognitive and behavioral psychology these days...

It's not that being an intellectual is a negative thing. It's good to be smart and have smart people around (although "smart" is not synonymous with "intellectual") It's simply that intellectuals value intellectualism to the exclusion of everything else. And that's dangerous.

It becomes the paramount value. Presidential Administrations are judged, as Weisberg judges the Bush Administration, solely by that value. If you are not an intellectual, you are not deserving of a position of power. Go back to your cave and let us smart people figure it out.

Kid Various is a card carrying Eastern Establishment Grad School Intellectual. And he's here to tell you, intellectuals often make really bad managers and make really poor decisions. Kid Various would make an awful president, because he is not a leader, he is not a manager, he is not decisive, he does not possess "street smarts," is incapable of inspiring loyalty or devotion and is often a lousy judge of character.

He can, however, wax intelligently on the totalitarian roots of Plato's "Republic" pace Karl Popper.

Again, that's not a bad thing. It's useful. But it is not the totality of what you need to be President. In fact, it's not even really in the top 3.

What is even more frightening, but not at all surprising given the intellectuals' devotion to the value of book smarts above all, is the total disregard that such people have for the American system, or the open society in general. The general public is only good for handing them power. As the electorate has simply been derided as bigoted, know-nothing fools these eight years. (Right now they are "wise" and have "transcended" their inherent intellectual handicaps.) No matter, as the electorate's role is simply to hand them power so they can get about the business of setting America right.

What they fail to grasp is that the open society demands a constant filtering of ideas through a net of specifically non-expert opinion. And part of that process is having the American electorate continually choose the direction that it wants the President to follow.

Weisberg may decry the politicization of the policy process:

If he really wants to bring change to Washington, the new president can start by putting a sign in his window: NO HACKS NEED APPLY.

But, in his intellectual brilliance, fails to grasp that that is precisely what has made our system successful.

Loyalty of subordinates, belief in the principles of the Administration, understanding of political interests; these are things which are crucial to a successful Administration, not simply intellectual power. The brilliance of Andrew Jackson was that he realized that he was the one official elected by the entire nation. Therefore, the people as a whole had endorsed the vision that he had campaigned on and it was not only his right, it was his duty, to implement that vision. Therefore, he needed an Administration that would aggressively prosecute that vision. Which meant he needed to shape the government so that it would be effective in doing so.

In other words, he had to hire hacks.

And so he invented the spoils system, firing 10% of the then tiny federal workforce and staffing it with his people. (Lord if Kid Various could only fire 10% of the federal workforce!) And thus, single-handedly saved the United States from an unchanging "permanent bureacracy" of "technocrats" as they have had in Europe - to such great success - and such that the intellectuals want to establish here.

So Mr. Weisberg, as one intellectual to another (and also as a proud political hack,) The Kid can only quote Pink Floyd:

We don't need no education...

What we need, is Liberty.


At Monday, November 17, 2008 at 8:27:00 AM EST, Anonymous Jim - PRS said...

Very well said, Kid.


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