Why the Personal is not Political

President Obama explained why policy is such a poor instrument for addressing something as personal as race relations:

But this is always one of the challenges of politics: It can never capture all the complexity and contradictions in life. So you end up having to try to be true in a way that can be consumed for a mass audience, but you’re always missing some elements of it. You’re always leaving some things out.

And that’s part of the reason why race is such a difficult thing to deal with in politics, because the evolution of racial identity, racial relationships, institutional racism, is never similar. The trajectory, I believe, has been positive. But anything you say on the topic of race, there’s a counterargument, there’s an exception, there’s a nuance. There’s a, Wait, hold on a minute, how about that? And that’s part of the reason why, I think, it creates frustration. It’s also why it’s easy to demagogue. It’s also why situations that look ambiguous can lead to people dividing into camps very quickly.

Justice is one thing. Politeness is another.

Who’s Afraid of NSA?

What with the news and controversy surrounding Edward Snowden and Wikileaks an average American might think his privacy no longer exists. Everything we do on-line or by phone is closely monitored by people who work deed deep in the federal government’s deep state.

Have I got good news for libertarians. On the way to the airport this morning I learned thanks to the Federalist Radio Hour that the reason the Affordable Care Act rolled out so poorly was that feds could not verify personal incomes of people signing up for the new health care plan. Enrollees entered their digits and the government had to go through too many layers of records, and even then could not tell how much someone made.

Imagine that. NSA and Homeland Security and the Defense Intelligence Agency may know your caloric intake thanks to the Fitbit you are wearing, but they can’t even tell how much you make.

Is this a great country, or what?

It’s Fascist When You Exclude the Universities?

Michael Kinsley thinks Donald Trump qualifies technically as a fascist:

The game has several names: “Corporate statism” is one. In Europe, they call it “dirigisme.” Those two other words for it — “Nazism” and “fascism” — are now beyond all respectability. It means, roughly, combining the power of the state with the power of corporations. At its mildest, it is intrusive regulations on business about parental leave and such. At its most toxic, it is concentration camps. In the 1930s, a few Americans (including a few liberals) bought into it. Pearl Harbor ended that argument. Even for Trump, “fascism” itself now is a dirty word, not just a policy choice. Even Trump would not use it — least of all about himself.

Did Kinsley worry about combining the power of the state with the power and prestige (we’re the smartest people in the world) of universities? It’s not as if nothing could go wrong (beware the negatives):

Indeed, illiberal progressive elitism has only become more pervasive as the gap between the “educated and the ignorant” has widened.

With the rise of think tanks, research universities, and advocacy foundations and nonprofits—the vast, interlocking, insulated complex we’ve constructed to formulate, advocate, and execute public policy—we have only reinforced the barrier between the everyday voter and governance. In order to understand, much less engage in, today’s abstract, detached, and data-saturated discourse of public policy, participants require ever more specialized academic expertise. If a problem can’t be expressed in a statistical formula—with the obliteration of nuance, detail, and local variability this entails—then the problem simply doesn’t exist.

What we now call the “rise of the meritocracy” may have begun well over a century ago. But as it accelerates today, its costs are becoming more apparent. The meritocrats sort themselves out not only socially, but geographically as well, into coastal and university enclaves. There, in a contemporary bow to positive eugenics, they engage in assortative mating. Their children then follow the sheltered path from university day school to Princeton to a career in social entrepreneurship, convinced that they can “change the world,” as the slogan goes, without ever touching down in that vast swath of cultural desolation unhappily separating Nassau Hall from Palo Alto. The distance between the “educated and ignorant” grows ever larger, both literally and figuratively.

You could also call this “corporate statism” since the biggest and smartest universities in the U.S. are corporations whose assets tax collectors cannot touch.

It’s Only POTUS

Michael Brendan Dougherty echoes the point that presidential elections are destroying America (and so we should let Congress pick POTUS):

The length of our presidential campaign atrophies self-governance. Instead of citizens governing themselves, Americans increasingly define their political lives by their membership in one tribe, and their support for its candidates. Instead of electing a leader, we pledge fealty as followers.

The bulk of our attention flows to the presidential race. And because there is so much attention there, the process attracts candidates who are merely seeking attention for themselves and not high office. In fact, that may be why the primaries feel more and more like reality television, and produced a reality TV president. Each debate is a new episode, and the political press waits for the latest news about which contestant is eliminated.

Because our mode of engaging with politics feels tribal, and because the process takes two years, many people experience it as a crushing psychological and social blow to be on the losing side. Citizens who identify with the losing presidential candidate feel like they are no longer a part of their country. They experience the transfer of the executive branch from one party to the other as a regime change that threatens them. Remember the red and blue maps of Jesusland and America that appeared during the Bush administration? Back then there was heady talk of Vermont seceding from the union to become a bastion of tolerance. Fast forward a few years, and conservatives were the ones spreading stories about Texas’ secession. This is not healthy. But it’s going to continue if we don’t begin to tame the presidential election itself.

The presidential election increases our sense that all issues are national issues. Even people who say they are addicted to politics often have no idea what is happening in their state or county government.

Dougherty adds a point that Aaron Sorkin, the creator of Jed Bartlet, the POTUS on West Wing, should take to heart:

One cause for the gigantism of our presidential election is the gigantism of the executive branch. The federal government employs more than 2 million people in the process of governing us.

Too bad that Sorkin doesn’t seem to recognize the monster that he fed (even if he did not create). His letter to his wife and daughters was typically hysterical (thanks to one of our southern correspondents):

White nationalists. Sexists, racists and buffoons. Angry young white men who think rap music and Cinco de Mayo are a threat to their way of life (or are the reason for their way of life) have been given cause to celebrate. Men who have no right to call themselves that and who think that women who aspire to more than looking hot are shrill, ugly, and otherwise worthy of our scorn rather than our admiration struck a blow for misogynistic s‑‑‑heads everywhere.

But if POTUS were little more than a glorified dog catcher, would the stakes be so high?