Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Greens, population policies, global warming and liberal democracy

All the Leaves are Brown, by Steven F Hayward
Claremont Review of Books, Winter 2008

Full article w/correct format here.

Books discussed in this essay:

The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman
American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau, edited by Bill McKibben, Foreword by Al Gore
How We Can Save the Planet: Preventing Global Climate Catastrophe, by Mayer Hillman, Tina Fawcett, and Sudhir Chella Rajan
The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy, by David Shearman and Joseph Wayne Smith
The Green State: Rethinking Democracy and Sovereignty, by Robyn Eckersley
Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population, by Matthew Connelly
Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility, by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger
Where We Stand: A Surprising Look at the Real State of Our Planet, by Seymour Garte
Useless Arithmetic: Why Environmental Scientists Can't Predict the Future, by Orrin H. Pilkey and Linda Pilkey-Jarvis

"On what principle is it," wondered Thomas Babington Macaulay in 1830, "that when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?" Environmentalism didn't exist in its current form in Macaulay's time, or he would easily have discerned its essential pessimism bordering at times on a loathing of humanity. A trip down the environment and earth sciences aisle of any larger bookstore is usually a tour of titles that cover the narrow range from dismay to despair.

On the surface this is not exceptional. Titles predicting decline, decay, and disaster are just as numerous in the real estate, economics, and social science shelves, though, ironically, not so much in the religion book racks, where one would expect to find apocalypticism well represented. This is an important distinction: unlike the eschatology of all major religions, the eco-apocalypse is utterly without hope of redemption for man or nature. The greens turn purple at the suggestion that most environmental conditions in rich nations are actually improving, and they bemoan the lack of "progress" toward the transformation of the human soul that is thought necessary for the planet's salvation. Yet some cracks are starting to appear in their dreary and repetitive story line. Although extreme green ideology won't go away any time soon—the political and legal institutions of the environmental movement are too well established—there are signs that the public and a few next-generation environmentalists are ready to say goodbye to all that. There are even some liberal authors with environmentalist sympathies who are turning against the environmental establishment. But it is necessary to claw our way through the deepening slough of green despondency to see this potential turning point.

More than 30 years ago political scientist Anthony Downs wrote in the Public Interest of a five-step "issue-attention cycle" through which public enthusiasm for an issue gradually diminishes as we come to recognize the high cost of drastic action, and that the nature of the problem was exaggerated or misconceived. The environment, he wrote, would have a longer cycle than most issues because of its diffuse nature, but it appears that the public is finally arriving at the late stages of Downs's cycle. Opinion surveys show that the public isn't jumping on the global warming bandwagon despite a multi-million dollar marketing campaign and full-scale media hysteria. More broadly there are signs that "green fatigue" is setting in. Magazine publishers recently reported that their special Earth Day "green" issues generated the lowest newsstand sales of all issues published in 2008. "Suddenly Being Green Is Not Cool Any More," read a London Times headline in August.

This has been building for a long time. Three years ago New York Times green-leaning columnist Nicholas Kristof lamented that the environmental movement was losing credibility because of its doomsaying monomania, with the result that "environmental alarms have been screeching for so long that, like car alarms, they are now just an irritating background noise." Environmental leaders did not take well to his wandering from the reservation. In response to the popular indifference to green alarms, conventional environmentalists have ratcheted up their level of vitriol against humanity and democratic institutions. One of the most popular books of 2007 among environmentalists was The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, which projects a "thought experiment" about what would occur if human beings were suddenly removed entirely from the planet. Answer: nature would reassert herself, and ultimately remove nearly all traces of human civilization within several millennia—a mere blink of an eye in the planetary timescale. Environmentalists cheered Weisman's vivid depiction of the resilience of nature, but what thrilled them was the scenario of a humanless earth. Weisman made sure to stroke his audience's self-loathing with plenty of boilerplate about resource exhaustion and overpopulation. The book rocketed up the best-seller list, the latest in a familiar genre stretching back at least to Fairfield Osborn's Our Plundered Planet in 1948, arguably the first neo-Malthusian doomsday tract of modern environmentalism. Time magazine named The World Without Us the number one non-fiction book of 2007.

Rethinking Democracy

The same view of environmentalism is on display in the Library of America's American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau. This collection, though worthy in some respects, has to be judged a disappointment compared to many other fine Library of America offerings—a shortcoming entirely attributable to the selection of Bill McKibben as editor. (The easier clue is the Foreword by Al Gore.) McKibben is another in the sad line of environmentalists who became bores by endlessly reprising the one-hit wonders of their youth (in McKibben's case, his mildly interesting 1989 book, The End of Nature). He begins and ends with Henry David Thoreau—"a Buddha with a receipt from the hardware store"—because he thinks environmental writing is to be distinguished from nature writing. Environmental writing, McKibben explains, "takes as its subject the collision between people and the rest of the world."

It was probably too much to expect that McKibben would balance the usual suspects such as Rachel Carson, Lynn White, Paul Ehrlich, and Garrett Hardin with such intelligent dissenters as Julian Simon, Terry Anderson, Frederick Jackson Turner, and R.J. Smith. But McKibben's adherence to environmental correctness is so narrowly conceived that he excludes a number of American authors who offer worthy reflections on man and nature. His tacit premise that man is not part of nature, or is opposed to the rest of nature, necessarily constricts the range of perspectives that can be brought to bear on the broad idea of "the environment." So though his collection includes Theodore Roosevelt, by representing American environmental writing as beginning with Thoreau, it excludes worthy earlier reflections such as Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia (or any of Jefferson's other agrarian reflections that can be read as precursors to Wendell Berry, who is included in McKibben's reader), or Tocqueville's prescient observations on American wilderness, our emerging attitudes toward it, and its relation to our democratic character.

McKibben and many other environmental writers affect an indifference toward, or transcendence of, politics in the ordinary sense, but ultimately cannot conceal their rejection of the liberal tradition. Here we observe the irony of modern environmentalism: the concern for the preservation of unchanged nature has grown in tandem with the steady erosion in our belief in unchanging human nature; the concern for the "rights of nature" has come to embrace a rejection of natural rights for humans. McKibben is one of many current voices (Gore is another) who like to express their environmentalism by decrying "individualism" (McKibben calls it "hyperindividualism"). Finding that individualism is "the sole ideology of a continent," he explains:

Fighting the ideology that was laying waste to so much of the planet demanded going beyond that individualism. Many found the means to do that in the notion of ‘community'—a word almost as fuzzy and hard to pin down as ‘wild,' but one that has emerged as an even more compelling source of motive energy for the environmental movement.

This is not a new theme for McKibben. Al Gore employed the same "communitarian" trope in his first and most famous environmental book, Earth in the Balance (1992), where, in the course of arguing that the environment should be the "central organizing principle" of civilization, he suggested that the problem with individual liberty is that we have too much of it. This preference for soft despotism has become more concrete with the increasing panic over global warming in the past few years. Several environmental authors now argue openly that democracy itself is the obstacle and needs to be abandoned. A year ago a senior fellow emeritus at Britain's Policy Studies Institute, Mayer Hillman, author of How We Can Save the Planet, told a reporter, "When the chips are down I think democracy is a less important goal than is the protection of the planet from the death of life, the end of life on it. This [rationing] has got to be imposed on people whether they like it or not." (Hillman openly advocates resource rationing.) Another recent self-explanatory book is The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy by Australians David Shearman and Joseph Wayne Smith. Shearman argued recently that

[l]iberal democracy is sweet and addictive and indeed in the most extreme case, the U.S.A., unbridled individual liberty overwhelms many of the collective needs of the citizens.... There must be open minds to look critically at liberal democracy. Reform must involve the adoption of structures to act quickly regardless of some perceived liberties.

Whom does Shearman admire as an example of environmental governance to be emulated? China, precisely because of its authoritarian government: "[T]he savvy Chinese rulers may be first out of the blocks to assuage greenhouse emissions and they will succeed by delivering orders.... We are going to have to look at how authoritarian decisions based on consensus science can be implemented to contain greenhouse emissions." Separately, Shearman has written:

To retain an inhabitable earth we may have to compromise the eternal vicissitudes of democracy for an informed leadership that directs. There are countries that fall within this requirement and we should use them to initiate more active mitigation.... The People's Republic of China may hold the key to innovative measures that can both arrest the expected surge in emissions from developing countries and provide developed nations with the means to alternative energy. China curbs individual freedom in favour of communal need. The State will implement those measures seen to be in the common good.

Perhaps the film version will be called An Inconvenient Democracy.

Academic political theorists who take up what might be called "green constitutionalism" understand that Lockean liberalism has to be overturned and replaced. In The Green State: Rethinking Democracy and Sovereignty, Australian political scientist Robyn Eckersley offers up an approach that, despite being swathed in postmodern jargon, is readily transparent. The "ecocentric," transnational "green state" Eckersley envisions is represented as an explicit alternative to "the classical liberal state, the indiscriminate growth-dependent welfare state, and the increasingly ascendant neoliberal competition state." Achieving a post-liberal state requires rethinking the entire Enlightenment project:

By framing the problem as one of rescuing and reinterpreting the Enlightenment goals of autonomy and critique, it is possible to identify what might be called a mutually informing set of "liberal dogmas" that have for too long been the subject of unthinking faith rather than critical scrutiny by liberals. The most significant of these dogmas are a muscular individualism and an understanding of the self-interested rational actor as natural and eternal; a dualistic conception of humanity and nature that denies human dependency on the biological world and gives rise to the notion of human exceptionalism from, and instrumentalism and chauvinism toward, the natural world; the sanctity of private property rights; the notion that freedom can only be acquired through material plenitude; and overconfidence in the rational mastery of nature through further scientific and technological progress.

Every traditional liberal or "progressive" understanding is up for grabs in this framework. This passage does not require much "parsing" to grasp its practical implications—the establishment of institutions and governing regimes that are not answerable to popular will, or that depend on transforming popular will in a specified direction. Eckersley makes this clear in a passage about the "social learning" function of "deliberative democracy," which she describes as "the requirement that participants be open and flexible in their thinking, that they enter a public dialogue with a preparedness to have their preferences transformed through reasoned argument." (Emphasis added.) In practice, of course, Eckersley's "reasoned argument" would resemble nothing so much as the infamous "ideology struggle" sessions of Mao's Cultural Revolution. This outlook gives new meaning to the old cliché about rulers selecting the people, rather than vice versa.

Yesterday's Crisis Mongers

Is there any respite from this dreary despotic nonsense? Here and there, a few authors of sufficient independence of mind can be found who have broken with green orthodoxy in significant ways. The first of note is Matthew Connelly of Columbia University, whose brilliant new history of the population control movement, Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population, is useful not simply on its theme but for the light it sheds on the political corruption that inevitably accompanies these world-saving enthusiasms. The "population bomb" can be seen as a precursor to the global warming crisis of today: as far back as the early decades of the 20th century the population crisis was put forward as the justification for global governance and coercive, non-consensual rule.

Connelly recounts one of the first major international conferences on world population, held in Geneva in 1927, where Albert Thomas, a French trade unionist, asked, "Has the moment yet arrived for considering the possibility of establishing some sort of supreme supranational authority which would regulate the distribution of population on rational and impartial lines, by controlling and directing migration movements and deciding on the opening-up or closing of countries to particular streams of immigration?" Connelly also describes the 1974 World Population Conference, which "witnessed an epic battle between starkly different versions of history and the future: one premised on the preservation of order, if necessary by radical new forms of global governance; the other inspired by the pursuit of justice, beginning with unfettered sovereignty for newly independent nations." (Emphasis added.)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the U.N.-sponsored body that is the juggernaut of today's climate campaign, finds its precedent in the International Union for the Scientific Investigation of Population Problems (IUSIPP), spawned at the 1927 World Population Conference. A bevy of NGOs, most prominently the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and Zero Population Growth (ZPG), later sprang into being, working hand-in-glove with the same private foundations (especially Ford and Rockefeller) and global financial institutions, such as the World Bank, that today are in the forefront of the climate campaign.

As Connelly lays out in painstaking detail, population control programs, aimed chiefly at developing nations, proliferated despite clear human rights abuses and, more importantly, new data and information that called into question many of the fundamental assumptions of the crisis mongers. Connelly recalls computer projections and economic models that offered precise and "scientifically grounded" projections of future global ruin from population growth, all of which were quickly falsified. The mass famines and food riots that were predicted never occurred; fertility rates began to fall everywhere, even in nations that lacked "family planning" programs.

The coercive nature of the population control programs in the field was appalling. India, in particular, became "a vast laboratory for the ultimate population control campaign," the chilling practices of which Connelly recounts:

Sterilizations were performed on 80-year-old men, uncomprehending subjects with mental problems, and others who died from untreated complications. There was no incentive to follow up patients. The Planning Commission found that the quality of postoperative care was "the weakest link." In Maharashtra, 52 percent of men complained of pain, and 16 percent had sepsis or unhealed wounds. Over 40 percent were unable to see a doctor. Almost 58 percent of women surveyed experienced pain after IUD insertion, 24 percent severe pain, and 43 percent had severe and excessive bleeding. Considering that iron deficiency was endemic in India, one can only imagine the toll the IUD program took on the health of Indian women.

These events Connelly describes took place in 1967, but instead of backing off, the Indian government—under constant pressure and lavish financial backing from the international population control organizations—intensified these coercive programs in the 1970s. Among other measures India required that families with three or more children had to be sterilized to be eligible for new housing (which the government, not the private market, controlled). "This war against the poor also swept across the countryside," Connelly notes:

In one case, the village of Uttawar in Haryana was surrounded by police, hundreds were taken into custody, and every eligible male was sterilized. Hearing what had happened, thousands gathered to defend another village named Pipli. Four were killed when police fired upon the crowd. Protesters gave up only when, according to one report, a senior government official threatened aerial bombardment. The director of family planning in Maharashtra, D.N. Pai, considered it a problem of "people pollution" and defended the government: "If some excesses appear, don't blame me.... You must consider it something like a war. There could be a certain amount of misfiring out of enthusiasm. There has been pressure to show results. Whether you like it or not, there will be a few dead people."

In all, over 8 million sterilizations, many of them forced, were conducted in India in 1976—"draconian population control," Connelly writes, "practiced on an unprecedented scale.... There is no way to count the number who were being hauled away to sterilization camps against their will." Nearly 2,000 died from botched surgical procedures. The people of India finally put the brakes on this coercive utopianism, at the ballot box: the Congress Party, which had championed the family planning program as one of its main policies, was swept from office in a landslide, losing 141 of 142 contested seats in the areas with the highest rate of sterilizations. At least the people of India had recourse to the ballot box; the new environmental constitutionalism will surely aim to eliminate this remedy.

A System without a Brain

One reason why enthusiasms and programs maintain their forward momentum in the face of changing facts and circumstances is the culture of corruption that inevitably comes to envelope self-selecting leadership groups organized around a crisis. Connelly ably captures this seamy side of the story:

Divided from within and besieged from without, leaders created a "system without a brain," setting in motion agencies and processes that could not be stopped. The idea of a "population crisis" provided the catalyst. But this was a system that ran on money. Earmarked appropriations greased the wheels of balky bureaucracies, and lavish funding was the fuel that drove it forward. But so much poured in so fast that spending became an end unto itself. The pressure to scale up and show results transformed organizations ostensibly dedicated to helping people plan their families into tools for social engineering.... Rather than accept constraints or accountability, they preferred to let population control go out of control. (Emphasis added.)

Corruption extended on a personal level to the New Class directing these world-saving crusades, what Connelly calls "the new jet set of population experts."

The lifestyle of the leaders of the population control establishment reflected the power of an idea whose time had come as well as the influence of the institutions that were now backing it.... Alan Guttmacher was in the habit of beginning letters to the Planned Parenthood membership with comments like "This is written 31,000 feet aloft as I fly from Rio to New York." He insisted on traveling with his wife, first class, with the IPPF picking up the tab. Ford [Foundation] officials flew first class with their spouses as a matter of policy. One wonders why Douglas Ensminger [the Ford Foundation's India officer] ever left his residence in Dehli—he was served by a household staff of nine, including maids, cooks, gardeners, and chauffeurs. He titled this part of his oral history "The ‘Little People' of India." Ensminger insisted on the need to pay top dollar and provide a plush lifestyle to attract the best talent, even if the consultants he recruited seemed preoccupied with their perks. One of these strivers ran his two-year old American sedan without oil just so that the Ford Foundation would have to replace it with the latest model....

For population experts this was the beginning of constantly expanding opportunities. The budgets, the staff, the access were all increasing even more quickly than the population growth their programs were meant to stop. There was "something in it for everyone," Population Association of America President John Kantner later recalled: "the activist, the scholar, the foundation officer, the globe-circling consultant, the wait-listed government official. World Conferences, a Population Year, commissions, select committees, new centers for research and training, a growing supply of experts, pronouncements by world leaders, and, most of all, money—lots of it."

Sounds rather like the moveable feast that is the IPCC's annual meetings, often held in hardship locales such as Bali, to press ahead with anti-global warming efforts. The magnitude of the traveling circus of the climate campaign has come to dwarf the population crusade. Prior to the arrival of climate change as a crisis issue, the largest single U.S. government science research project was the acid rain study of the 1980s (the National Acid Precipitation Assessment Project, or NAPAP for short), which cost about $500 million, and concluded that the acid rain problem had been vastly overestimated. (Public opinion polls in the late 1970s rated acid rain the most significant environmental problem of the time.) Today the U.S. government is spending multiple billions each year on climate research—so much through so many different agencies and budget sources that it is impossible to estimate the total reliably.

With so much money at stake, and with so many careers staked to the catastrophic climate scenario, one could predict that the entire apparatus would be resistant to new information and reasonable criticism. This is exactly what happened in the population crusade. When compelling critics of the population bomb thesis arose—people who might be called "skeptics," such as Julian Simon—the population campaign reacted by circling the wagons and demonizing its critics, just as global warming skeptics today are subjected to relentless ad hominem attacks. Connelly again:

Leaders of the population control movement defending their record and fighting back. They lined up heads of state, major corporations, and international organizations behind a global strategy to slow population growth. But they also worked more quietly to insulate their projects from political opposition by co-opting or marginalizing critics, strengthening transnational networks, and establishing more free-standing institutions exempt from normal government oversight.

This is exactly the playbook of the climate campaign today. Nevertheless, it is likely to follow the same trajectory as the population control movement—gradual decline in salience to the point that even the United Nations, in the early 1990s, officially downgraded the priority of the issue. This is likely to happen to climate change even if dramatic predictions of climate change turn out to be true.

Liberal Environmentalists

A few environmentalists on the left understand the profound defects of the radical green approach to politics, along with the conventional green approach to global warming. Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, self-described "progressives" and authors of one of the most challenging recent books on the environment, Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility, recognize and lament the authoritarianism of conventional environmentalism. "Environmental tales of tragedy begin with Nature in harmony and almost always end in quasi-authoritarian politics," Nordhaus and Shellenberger observe. While environmentalists like Eckersley embrace the postmodern language of "privilege" to denigrate traditional individual rights, Nordhaus and Shellenberger point up the obvious irony that it is environmentalism that is making the boldest claim to be given the most privileged position in politics: "The problem is not simply that it is difficult to answer the question ‘Who speaks for nature?' but rather that there is something profoundly wrong with the question itself. It rests on the premise that some people are better able to speak for nature, the environment, or a particular place than others. This assumption is profoundly authoritarian."

Above all, they reject the "limits to growth" mentality that has been near the center of environmental thought for two generations:

Environmentalists...have tended to view economic growth as the cause but not the solution to ecological crisis. Environmentalists like to emphasize the ways in which the economy depends on ecology, but they often miss the ways in which thinking ecologically depends on prospering economically.... Few things have hampered environmentalism more than its longstanding position that limits to growth are the remedy for ecological crises.

For this very reason, Nordhaus and Shellenberger insist that constraints on greenhouse gas emissions as contemplated by the Kyoto process will never work and should be abandoned. Instead they advocate massive research (with government paying for the largest share) into post-carbon energy systems. With due caveats about government-funded research, this seems a better approach than Gore's hair-shirt agenda. They may underestimate the sheer technical and economic difficulties of energy technology, but Break Through is not primarily a policy tome—it is intended to reorient our general thinking about the environment. In the second half of their book it becomes clear that Nordhaus and Shellenberger aren't just trying to save environmentalism; they are trying to save contemporary liberalism, which they regard as nearly as intellectually dead as environmentalism. "[E]nvironmentalism is hobbled by its resentment of human strength and our desire to control nature, and liberalism by its resentment of wealth and power," they write. This part of the book is less successful though no less serious and thoughtful. In arguing that liberals need to be more philosophical (hear, hear!), Nordhaus and Shellenberger deploy a number of philosophical categories that are problematic, at the very least, and embrace the core principles of postmodernism—though, happily, that overused term does not appear in their generally clear, direct prose. The duo are against Platonic essentialism when it comes to conceiving nature (including, it would seem, human nature), and for a revival of Deweyite pragmatism as well as empowering individual "authenticity." The reader gets dizzy at times following the back and forth between Richard Rorty, Thomas Kuhn, Francis Fukuyama, the "metaphysics of becoming," and more down-to-earth wonkish discussions of gas mileage standards for automobiles.

But despite these flaws, Break Through is still a refreshing departure from most environmental discourse, and the young authors probably aren't done, either, rethinking fundamental aspects of political life and man's relation to nature. Their rude treatment from fellow "progressives" (the American Prospect dismissed the book as containing "a lot of wasted ink") will surely encourage more reflection.

A Green Reformation?

Even in academia there are a few lonely voices who've noticed that the conventional green outlook is badly defective and in need of revision. Seymour Garte, professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Public Health, makes his bid to become the next "skeptical environmentalist" (after Bjorn Lomborg) with his book Where We Stand: A Surprising Look at the Real State of Our Planet. Garte recalls his surprise, and the surprise of fellow experts attending a professional conference in Europe, when presented with data from a speaker showing steadily declining air pollution trends along with the claim, "everyone knows that air pollution levels are continually decreasing everywhere." "I looked around the room," Garte writes:

I was not the only nonexpert there. Most of my other colleagues were also not atmospheric or air pollution scientists. Later I asked one of them, a close friend, if he had known that air pollution levels were constantly decreasing throughout Europe and the United States on a yearly basis. "I had no idea," he said. It was certainly news to me. Even though I was a professor of environmental health and had been actively involved in many aspects of pollution research for many years, that simple fact had somehow escaped me.... I had certainly never seen it published in the media.

Garte goes on to argue that excessive pessimism about the environment undermines good scientific investigation and distorts our understanding of important environmental challenges. He displays the frequent naïveté of a scientist observing the political world: "I have never understood why pessimism has for so long been associated with a liberal or progressive political world view." He criticizes anti-technological biases prevalent among environmentalists, but is also skeptical that market forces alone will suffice to continue our environmental progress in the future. He is guardedly optimistic that the creativity and adaptability of the human species will enable us to confront surprises and new problems. "We should pay attention to our successes as much as to our failures," Garte writes, "because in order to know where to go next, it is just as important to know where (and how) we went right as it is to know where we have gone wrong."

One of the persistent problems with environmentalism is its bait-and-switch character. The essentially political character of the movement cloaks itself with the seemingly objective authority of modern science, as though science were immune from politicization, or led to self-evident political or policy conclusions. Laying aside the value-laden premises of the ways science is used and misused in environmental controversies, it is startling to discover how limited our scientific grasp of many environmental conditions really is. The worst abuse of science comes in the almost daily predictions of future environmental conditions based on sophisticated computer models that often lack a solid empirical grounding for their assumptions and are seldom validated or back-tested with any rigor. Orrin Pilkey of Duke University and his daughter Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, a government geologist, note these failings in Useless Arithmetic: Why

Environmental Scientists Can't Predict the Future.

The most famous prediction racket these days is climate modeling, but Useless Arithmetic mostly avoids the Super Bowl of enviro-modeling in favor of tackling more limited prediction modeling exercises, such as fishery management or forecasting coastal erosion, invasive species, and nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. Environmental forecasting is a classic case of being hoist by one's own petard. The inherent weakness of most exercises stems precisely from the core principle of modern pop environmentalism—that everything is connected to everything else. As the Pilkeys point out,

[p]erhaps the single most important reason that quantitative predictive mathematical models of natural processes on earth don't work and can't work has to do with ordering complexity. Interactions among the numerous components of a complex system occur in unpredictable and unexpected sequences.

Contrary to the usual process of science in which defects and errors become the platform for refinement and new approaches to the problem, environmental science finds itself caught in the grip of "politically correct modeling" (the authors' emphasis) in which there is enormous pressure on scientists, many of whom discover "that modeling results are easier to live with if they follow preconceived or politically correct notions." The models take on a life of their own, and become obstacles to conducting serious field studies that might strengthen our empirical grasp of ecosystem dynamics. "Applied mathematical modeling has become a science that has advanced without the usual broad-based, vigorous debate, criticism, and constant attempts at falsification that characterize good science," the Pilkeys conclude.

Neither Garte nor the Pilkeys are full-blown green skeptics; to the contrary—they are global warming believers who lean slightly left-of-center in their politics. But they represent a gathering backlash among academic scientists against the straightjacket of orthodox environmentalism. There are a number of others like them whose names never appear in the media or before congressional hearings. The prospect that a new generation of environmentalists such as Nordhaus and Shellenberger, along with academic dissenters such as Garte and the Pilkeys, can work a reformation of the movement may not seem very bright. But such voices were virtually unheard of even ten years ago. Stay tuned: a new shade of green might yet emerge.

This essay is part of the Taube American Values Series, made possible by the Taube Family Foundation.

20th Anniversary of the Alar Scare

20th Anniversary of the (Scientifically Baseless) Alar Scare
The American Council on Science and Health, February 25, 2009

Twenty years ago tomorrow, a combination of environmentalists, public interest lawyers, publicists, and members of the news media foisted a bogus health scare on the American public -- the fear that apples being sprayed with Alar were exposing children to a cancer-causing chemical. The Great Apple Scare: Alar 20 Years Later , a new publication by the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), depicts how this plant growth-regulating chemical was successfully demonized and provides a template for the many baseless health scares that followed.

Authored by William P. Kucewicz, formerly on the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, The Great Apple Scare provides a succinct history of Alar's use, as well as the generation of anxiety and fear among American consumers. "Of course, those most concerned were parents of young children," notes Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, ACSH president. "One woman became so anxious that she chased a school bus in order to remove the apple from her child's lunchbox."

In 1968 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of Alar on apples after two years of carcinogenicity testing had shown it was safe. Additional studies were conducted after that approval. While the great majority also found no problems with Alar, studies done by one researcher supposedly did not. Evaluation by numerous experts found many scientific problems with this research.

But before this welcome news could be publicized, the CBS show "60 Minutes" termed Alar one of the most dangerous chemicals in the American food supply. Subsequently, actress Meryl Streep donned a toxicologist's mantle and helped spread the accusations against Alar.

Unfortunately, science was no match for the fear trumped up by environmental activists and associated public relations firm Fenton Communications, and in 1989 Alar was removed from the market."

The Alar saga provided a roadmap for activists to attack numerous other chemicals that never harmed anyone," stated ACSH medical director Dr. Gilbert Ross. "It should leave readers with some understanding of how baseless most of these health scares really are," he continued.

See a video commentary about the Alar scare by ACSH's Dr. Whelan here.

Obama’s Oddly Conservative Codas

Obama’s Oddly Conservative Codas. By Matthew Rothschild
The Progressive, February 25, 2009

Did Obama really have to say that he didn’t believe in bigger government? He’s in the midst of a tough ideological battle with the Republicans, and he just surrendered an enormous amount of territory.

I watched Obama’s speech, and I was impressed with his performance and his command, and with some—but only some—of what he had to say.

I liked his call to bold action, but his defense of government intervention in the economy was neither as fulsome nor as persuasive as the one offered at his first press conference.

In his speech, he gave a quick tour of previous positive public interventions, and concluded, “Government didn’t supplant private enterprise; it catalyzed private enterprise.”

Well, that’s not exactly true. During World War II, it basically ran the economy. And, anyway, should government’s only role be to catalyze capitalism?

Plus, did Obama really have to say that he didn’t believe in bigger government?
He’s in the midst of a tough ideological battle with the Republicans, and he just surrendered an enormous amount of territory.

Likewise, he didn’t need to propose, in his recovery plan, and then stress, in his speech, that 90 percent of the jobs he creates will be “in the private sector.” Those will be largely nonunion jobs, and less secure ones, at that.

Nor did he have to reiterate his pledge to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term. That’s precisely the wrong thing to do in the Great Recession. He will either accomplish this goal and kill off the recovery, or fail to meet the goal he foolishly set for himself.

And while he had the cutting knife in his hand, he menaced Social Security with it.

He sang some populist notes, like talking tough with bankers, though he didn’t propose the obvious solution, nationalization. How could he, with his paeans to the private sector?

He also put as much blame on the American people for overspending and overbuying, as he did on the banks for swindling them and then gambling on their securitized mortgages.

He played to the stands when he repeated his lecture to parents to turn off the TV and read to their children. In a line that Ronald Reagan could have uttered, he said, “There is no program or policy that can substitute for a mother or father” who is involved with their kids.

Though his agenda was liberal and ambitious in some places, his coda was too often oddly conservative.

US Energy Dept Project Promotes Low-Impact Drilling

DOE Project Leads to New Alliance to Promote Low-Impact Drilling
Alliance to Fund, Transfer Technologies to Minimize Environmental Impact of Drilling for Oil and Natural Gas

Washington, DC — A project supported by the Office of Fossil Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) has given rise to a major new research consortium to promote advanced technology for low-impact oil and gas drilling. Announced earlier this month by the Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) and Texas A&M University, the University/National Laboratory Alliance will fund and transfer advanced technologies to accelerate development of domestic oil and natural gas resources with minimal environmental impact.

The alliance has its roots in a project funded through the Office of Fossil Energy’s Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Program. The goal of the 3½-year project, which is drawing to a close, has been to identify and develop low-impact drilling systems for use in environmentally sensitive areas such as desert ecosystems and coastal margins. Among other accomplishments, the project has led to the creation of the Environmentally Friendly Drilling Program (EFD), which will continue with support from the energy industry and other government organizations after NETL sponsorship ends on March 31, 2009. The new alliance is part of the EFD.

"This is an excellent example of how the government’s investment in advanced, environmentally friendly technologies to develop domestic energy resources has encouraged industry interest and leveraged the taxpayer dollar," said Victor Der, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy. "Technology advancement is the key to simultaneously addressing issues of energy security, supply, affordability, and environmental quality."

According to Rich Haut, manager of the new alliance, its goal is "to fund the development of low-impact systems that can be used in environmentally sensitive regions and share the latest research findings concerning these systems with leaders of energy, academia, environmental organizations, and government. . . . We will consider all aspects of energy resource recovery, not only traditional oil and natural gas production methods but also unconventional production, such as natural gas from shale or coal-bed methane."

In addition to HARC and Texas A&M, founding members of the alliance include:
  • Argonne National Laboratory
  • Los Alamos National Laboratory
  • Sam Houston State University
  • The University of Arkansas
  • The University of Colorado
  • The University of Wyoming
  • Utah State University
  • West Virginia University
The new University/National Laboratory Alliance is an outgrowth of an NETL-supported project with Texas A&M University entitled "Field Testing of Environmentally Friendly Drilling Systems." The $2.3 million project, which started on September 30, 2005, and will end on March 31, 2009, has resulted in a number of other significant accomplishments. These include:
  • Identifying more than 90 specific technologies related to the footprint of oil and natural gas operations that, if widely commercialized and applied, could help industry achieve more than a 90 percent reduction in environmental impact.
  • Creating more than 20 jobs that lasted for the duration of the project, and contributing to future job growth by developing technologies to make oil and gas resources that are environmentally restricted today producible tomorrow.
  • Establishing an Oil & Gas Desert Test Center near Pecos, Texas, on the edge of the Chihuahua desert, to evaluate low-impact drilling technology in desert ecosystems such as those found in the Western United States.
  • Establishing a systems approach to optimize drilling decisions and ensure that the activities selected satisfy chosen criteria; the approach has been successfully used in the EFD program to determine the optimum system for a given site.
  • Developing a small footprint, low-impact process based on sound engineering and biological principles to convert drilling wastes to a useable product.

Conservative views on Charles "Chas" Freeman Jr

Obama's Intelligence Choice. By Gabriel Schoenfeld
The president picks a China apologist and Israel basher to write his intelligence summaries.
The Wall Street Journal, Feb 25, 2009

During the presidential campaign, a constant refrain of Barack Obama and other Democratic candidates was that the Bush administration had severely politicized intelligence, resulting in such disasters as the war in Iraq.

The irony of course is that, if anything, President Bush badly failed at depoliticizing a CIA that was often hostile to his agenda. Witness the repeated leaks of classified information that undercut his policies. It now appears Mr. Obama has appointed a highly controversial figure to head the National Intelligence Council, which is responsible for producing National Intelligence Estimates. The news Web site yesterday reported that it could confirm rumors that a former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Charles "Chas" Freeman Jr., has been appointed chairman. (My calls to the White House and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence produced neither confirmation nor denial.)

Without question, Mr. Freeman has a distinguished résumé, having served in a long list of State and Defense Department slots. But also without question, he has distinctive political views and affiliations, some of which are more than eyebrow-raising.

In 1997, Mr. Freeman succeeded George McGovern to become the president of the Middle East Policy Council. The MEPC purports to be a nonpartisan, public-affairs group that "strives to ensure that a full range of U.S. interests and views are considered by policy makers" dealing with the Middle East. In fact, its original name until 1991 was the American-Arab Affairs Council, and it is an influential Washington mouthpiece for Saudi Arabia.

As Mr. Freeman acknowledged in a 2006 interview with an outfit called the Saudi-US Relations Information Service, MEPC owes its endowment to the "generosity" of King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia. Asked in the same interview about his organization's current mission, Mr. Freeman responded, in a revealing non sequitur, that he was "delighted that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has, after a long delay, begun to make serious public relations efforts."

Among MEPC's recent activities in the public relations realm, it has published what it calls an "unabridged" version of "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy" by professors John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt. This controversial 2006 essay argued that American Jews have a "stranglehold" on the U.S. Congress, which they employ to tilt the U.S. toward Israel at the expense of broader American interests. Mr. Freeman has both endorsed the paper's thesis and boasted of MEPC's intrepid stance: "No one else in the United States has dared to publish this article, given the political penalties that the Lobby imposes on those who criticize it."

Unsurprisingly, Mr. Freeman has views about Middle East policy that differ rather sharply from those held by supporters of the state of Israel. More surprisingly, they also differ rather sharply from the views -- or at least the views stated during the campaign -- of the president who has invited him to serve.

While President Obama speaks of helping the people of Israel "search for credible partners with whom they can make peace," Mr. Freeman believes, as he said in a 2007 address to the Washington Institute of Foreign Affairs, that "Israel no longer even pretends to seek peace with the Palestinians; it strives instead to pacify them." The primary reason America confronts a terrorism problem today, he continued, is "the brutal oppression of the Palestinians by an Israeli occupation that is about to mark its fortieth anniversary and shows no sign of ending."

Although initial reaction to Mr. Freeman's selection has focused on his views of the Middle East, that region is by no means Mr. Freeman's only area of interest. He has pronounced on a wide variety of other subjects, including China, where he has attempted to explain away the scale and scope of the starkly intensive buildup of the People's Liberation Army. The specter of a Chinese threat, he remarked during a China forum at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in October 2006, is nothing more than "a great fund-raiser for the hyper-expensive advanced weaponry our military-industrial complex prefers to make and our armed forces love to employ."

On the massacre at Tiananmen Square in 1989, Mr. Freeman unabashedly sides with the Chinese government, a remarkable position for an appointee of an administration that has pledged to advance the cause of human rights. Mr. Freeman has been a participant in ChinaSec, a confidential Internet discussion group of China specialists. A copy of one of his postings was provided to me by a former member. "The truly unforgivable mistake of the Chinese authorities," he wrote there in 2006, "was the failure to intervene on a timely basis to nip the demonstrations in the bud." Moreover, "the Politburo's response to the mob scene at 'Tiananmen' stands as a monument to overly cautious behavior on the part of the leadership, not as an example of rash action." Indeed, continued Mr. Freeman, "I do not believe it is acceptable for any country to allow the heart of its national capital to be occupied by dissidents intent on disrupting the normal functions of government, however appealing to foreigners their propaganda may be."

We have already seen a string of poorly vetted appointments from the Obama White House, like those of Tom Daschle and Bill Richardson, that after public scrutiny were tossed under the bus. The chairmanship of the National Intelligence Council differs from those cases, for it does not require Senate confirmation. If someone with such extreme views has been appointed to such a sensitive position, is this a reflection of Mr. Obama's true predilections, or is it proof positive that the Obama White House has never gotten around to vetting its own vetters?

Either way, if those complaining loudest about politicized intelligence have indeed placed a China-coddling Israel basher in charge of drafting the most important analyses prepared by the U.S. government, it is quite a spectacle. The problem is not that Mr. Freeman will shade National Intelligence Estimates to suit the administration's political views. The far more serious danger is that he will steer them to reflect his own outlandish perspectives and prejudices.

Mr. Schoenfeld, a resident scholar at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J., is writing a book about secrecy and national security.

Justice Department's request last week for the names of 52,000 account-holders at Swiss banking giant UBS

Swiss Bank Miss. WSJ Editorial
Look who's bullying America's friends in Old Europe now.
The Wall Street Journal, Feb 25, 2009

Even in normal times, Swiss bankers are hard to love -- with their image of numbered accounts, high-security safe deposit boxes, and allegations of tax evasion.

So there's been very little sympathy for the Swiss in the wake of the Justice Department's request last week for the names of 52,000 account-holders at Swiss banking giant UBS. John A. DiCicco, the acting assistant attorney general of Justice's Tax Division, crowed that the "veil of secrecy has been pulled aside" from Swiss banking, while other officials emphasized the injustice of evading one's tax obligations while others pay their fair share -- presumably, cabinet nominees included.

All of this may make for good press, but that doesn't mean it's good law enforcement. Tax evasion is wrong and tax evaders should be pursued within the limits of the law. Justice's recent request for 52,000 names and accounts, however, looks like prosecutorial overreach.

It's also turning out to be lousy -- dare we say, unilateral -- foreign policy. The Swiss government withdrew its representative from a Senate hearing chaired by Michigan Democrat Carl Levin in protest over the Justice Department demands. Originally scheduled for yesterday, the hearing has been postponed. Switzerland says the subpoena violates a decades-old treaty on legal assistance between the two countries, and it has a case. Under that treaty, the Swiss agreed to cooperate on specific requests on a case-by-case basis, provided that there was evidence of a crime and that the client had an opportunity to present his side to Swiss authorities.

The Justice Department has been frustrated with the slow pace of that process on the Swiss side. But then again, the number of accounts involved is unprecedented, and frustration with previously agreed rules of due process isn't an excuse for abrogating a bilateral treaty of long standing. When they were in the minority, we seem to recall both Senator Levin and President Obama opining that the U.S. must show respect for its allies, the rule of law, and so on.

This is not to exonerate UBS, which admitted to misdeeds in its deferred prosecution agreement and is paying a $780 million fine. It has also turned over the account information of some 250 UBS account holders as part of the settlement.

But bank secrecy isn't merely a quaint Swiss tradition. It's the law of the land there. And if UBS acceded to the Justice Department's demands without adhering to Switzerland's standards of due process, the bank could find itself on the wrong side of Swiss law. Last Friday, a Swiss court ordered the Swiss banking regulator not to turn over some of the information requested by Justice.

It was in part to avoid this sort of dilemma that the two countries came to a mutual understanding about how to handle tax cases some 30 years ago. But in its zealous pursuit of suspected tax evaders, the Obama Administration is trampling that treaty and undermining its relationship with a country that has long represented our interests in places like Cuba and Iran. The Swiss are aghast that an Administration that has promised to be punctilious about the rule of law for terrorists has no time for a friend when it comes to tax-evasion suspects.

If Carl Levin wants to do something about evasion, he'd do better to examine the perverse incentives in the U.S. tax code for people to take their money overseas -- such as the extraordinary requirement that Americans, almost alone in the world, pay taxes on their world-wide income no matter where they live. Those and other punitive provisions of our tax code don't excuse evasion. But when they create incentives for more of it, they're also driving capital and tax revenue away from our shores.

Speaking of capital, Switzerland is the fourth-largest foreign investor in the United States. Threatening its sovereignty and ignoring the treaties we have with the mountain republic seems like a bad way to keep that money flowing our way at a time when we need it.

Remarks of President Barack Obama -- Address to Joint Session of Congress

Remarks of President Barack Obama -- Address to Joint Session of Congress
Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery
Address to Joint Session of Congress
Tuesday, February 24th, 2009 at 9:01 pm

Madame Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the First Lady of the United States:

I’ve come here tonight not only to address the distinguished men and women in this great chamber, but to speak frankly and directly to the men and women who sent us here.

I know that for many Americans watching right now, the state of our economy is a concern that rises above all others. And rightly so. If you haven’t been personally affected by this recession, you probably know someone who has – a friend; a neighbor; a member of your family. You don’t need to hear another list of statistics to know that our economy is in crisis, because you live it every day. It’s the worry you wake up with and the source of sleepless nights. It’s the job you thought you’d retire from but now have lost; the business you built your dreams upon that’s now hanging by a thread; the college acceptance letter your child had to put back in the envelope. The impact of this recession is real, and it is everywhere.

But while our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken; though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this:
We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.

The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation. The answers to our problems don’t lie beyond our reach. They exist in our laboratories and universities; in our fields and our factories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on Earth. Those qualities that have made America the greatest force of progress and prosperity in human history we still possess in ample measure. What is required now is for this country to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more.

Now, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that for too long, we have not always met these responsibilities – as a government or as a people. I say this not to lay blame or look backwards, but because it is only by understanding how we arrived at this moment that we’ll be able to lift ourselves out of this predicament.

The fact is, our economy did not fall into decline overnight. Nor did all of our problems begin when the housing market collapsed or the stock market sank. We have known for decades that our survival depends on finding new sources of energy. Yet we import more oil today than ever before. The cost of health care eats up more and more of our savings each year, yet we keep delaying reform. Our children will compete for jobs in a global economy that too many of our schools do not prepare them for. And though all these challenges went unsolved, we still managed to spend more money and pile up more debt, both as individuals and through our government, than ever before.

In other words, we have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election. A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future. Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. People bought homes they knew they couldn’t afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway. And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day.

Well that day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here.
Now is the time to act boldly and wisely – to not only revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity. Now is the time to jumpstart job creation, re-start lending, and invest in areas like energy, health care, and education that will grow our economy, even as we make hard choices to bring our deficit down. That is what my economic agenda is designed to do, and that’s what I’d like to talk to you about tonight.

It’s an agenda that begins with jobs.

As soon as I took office, I asked this Congress to send me a recovery plan by President’s Day that would put people back to work and put money in their pockets. Not because I believe in bigger government – I don’t. Not because I’m not mindful of the massive debt we’ve inherited – I am. I called for action because the failure to do so would have cost more jobs and caused more hardships. In fact, a failure to act would have worsened our long-term deficit by assuring weak economic growth for years. That’s why I pushed for quick action. And tonight, I am grateful that this Congress delivered, and pleased to say that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is now law.

Over the next two years, this plan will save or create 3.5 million jobs. More than 90% of these jobs will be in the private sector – jobs rebuilding our roads and bridges; constructing wind turbines and solar panels; laying broadband and expanding mass transit.
Because of this plan, there are teachers who can now keep their jobs and educate our kids. Health care professionals can continue caring for our sick. There are 57 police officers who are still on the streets of Minneapolis tonight because this plan prevented the layoffs their department was about to make.

Because of this plan, 95% of the working households in America will receive a tax cut – a tax cut that you will see in your paychecks beginning on April 1st.

Because of this plan, families who are struggling to pay tuition costs will receive a $2,500 tax credit for all four years of college. And Americans who have lost their jobs in this recession will be able to receive extended unemployment benefits and continued health care coverage to help them weather this storm.

I know there are some in this chamber and watching at home who are skeptical of whether this plan will work. I understand that skepticism. Here in Washington, we’ve all seen how quickly good intentions can turn into broken promises and wasteful spending. And with a plan of this scale comes enormous responsibility to get it right.

That is why I have asked Vice President Biden to lead a tough, unprecedented oversight effort – because nobody messes with Joe. I have told each member of my Cabinet as well as mayors and governors across the country that they will be held accountable by me and the American people for every dollar they spend. I have appointed a proven and aggressive Inspector General to ferret out any and all cases of waste and fraud. And we have created a new website called so that every American can find out how and where their money is being spent.

So the recovery plan we passed is the first step in getting our economy back on track. But it is just the first step. Because even if we manage this plan flawlessly, there will be no real recovery unless we clean up the credit crisis that has severely weakened our financial system.

I want to speak plainly and candidly about this issue tonight, because every American should know that it directly affects you and your family’s well-being. You should also know that the money you’ve deposited in banks across the country is safe; your insurance is secure; and you can rely on the continued operation of our financial system. That is not the source of concern.
The concern is that if we do not re-start lending in this country, our recovery will be choked off before it even begins.

You see, the flow of credit is the lifeblood of our economy. The ability to get a loan is how you finance the purchase of everything from a home to a car to a college education; how stores stock their shelves, farms buy equipment, and businesses make payroll.

But credit has stopped flowing the way it should. Too many bad loans from the housing crisis have made their way onto the books of too many banks. With so much debt and so little confidence, these banks are now fearful of lending out any more money to households, to businesses, or to each other. When there is no lending, families can’t afford to buy homes or cars. So businesses are forced to make layoffs. Our economy suffers even more, and credit dries up even further.

That is why this administration is moving swiftly and aggressively to break this destructive cycle, restore confidence, and re-start lending.

We will do so in several ways. First, we are creating a new lending fund that represents the largest effort ever to help provide auto loans, college loans, and small business loans to the consumers and entrepreneurs who keep this economy running.

Second, we have launched a housing plan that will help responsible families facing the threat of foreclosure lower their monthly payments and re-finance their mortgages. It’s a plan that won’t help speculators or that neighbor down the street who bought a house he could never hope to afford, but it will help millions of Americans who are struggling with declining home values – Americans who will now be able to take advantage of the lower interest rates that this plan has already helped bring about. In fact, the average family who re-finances today can save nearly $2000 per year on their mortgage.

Third, we will act with the full force of the federal government to ensure that the major banks that Americans depend on have enough confidence and enough money to lend even in more difficult times. And when we learn that a major bank has serious problems, we will hold accountable those responsible, force the necessary adjustments, provide the support to clean up their balance sheets, and assure the continuity of a strong, viable institution that can serve our people and our economy.

I understand that on any given day, Wall Street may be more comforted by an approach that gives banks bailouts with no strings attached, and that holds nobody accountable for their reckless decisions. But such an approach won’t solve the problem. And our goal is to quicken the day when we re-start lending to the American people and American business and end this crisis once and for all.

I intend to hold these banks fully accountable for the assistance they receive, and this time, they will have to clearly demonstrate how taxpayer dollars result in more lending for the American taxpayer. This time, CEOs won’t be able to use taxpayer money to pad their paychecks or buy fancy drapes or disappear on a private jet. Those days are over.

Still, this plan will require significant resources from the federal government – and yes, probably more than we’ve already set aside. But while the cost of action will be great, I can assure you that the cost of inaction will be far greater, for it could result in an economy that sputters along for not months or years, but perhaps a decade. That would be worse for our deficit, worse for business, worse for you, and worse for the next generation. And I refuse to let that happen.

I understand that when the last administration asked this Congress to provide assistance for struggling banks, Democrats and Republicans alike were infuriated by the mismanagement and results that followed. So were the American taxpayers. So was I.

So I know how unpopular it is to be seen as helping banks right now, especially when everyone is suffering in part from their bad decisions. I promise you – I get it.

But I also know that in a time of crisis, we cannot afford to govern out of anger, or yield to the politics of the moment. My job – our job – is to solve the problem. Our job is to govern with a sense of responsibility. I will not spend a single penny for the purpose of rewarding a single Wall Street executive, but I will do whatever it takes to help the small business that can’t pay its workers or the family that has saved and still can’t get a mortgage.

That’s what this is about. It’s not about helping banks – it’s about helping people. Because when credit is available again, that young family can finally buy a new home. And then some company will hire workers to build it. And then those workers will have money to spend, and if they can get a loan too, maybe they’ll finally buy that car, or open their own business. Investors will return to the market, and American families will see their retirement secured once more. Slowly, but surely, confidence will return, and our economy will recover.

So I ask this Congress to join me in doing whatever proves necessary. Because we cannot consign our nation to an open-ended recession. And to ensure that a crisis of this magnitude never happens again, I ask Congress to move quickly on legislation that will finally reform our outdated regulatory system. It is time to put in place tough, new common-sense rules of the road so that our financial market rewards drive and innovation, and punishes short-cuts and abuse.

The recovery plan and the financial stability plan are the immediate steps we’re taking to revive our economy in the short-term. But the only way to fully restore America’s economic strength is to make the long-term investments that will lead to new jobs, new industries, and a renewed ability to compete with the rest of the world. The only way this century will be another American century is if we confront at last the price of our dependence on oil and the high cost of health care; the schools that aren’t preparing our children and the mountain of debt they stand to inherit. That is our responsibility.

In the next few days, I will submit a budget to Congress. So often, we have come to view these documents as simply numbers on a page or laundry lists of programs. I see this document differently. I see it as a vision for America – as a blueprint for our future.

My budget does not attempt to solve every problem or address every issue. It reflects the stark reality of what we’ve inherited – a trillion dollar deficit, a financial crisis, and a costly recession.
Given these realities, everyone in this chamber – Democrats and Republicans – will have to sacrifice some worthy priorities for which there are no dollars. And that includes me.

But that does not mean we can afford to ignore our long-term challenges. I reject the view that says our problems will simply take care of themselves; that says government has no role in laying the foundation for our common prosperity.

For history tells a different story. History reminds us that at every moment of economic upheaval and transformation, this nation has responded with bold action and big ideas. In the midst of civil war, we laid railroad tracks from one coast to another that spurred commerce and industry. From the turmoil of the Industrial Revolution came a system of public high schools that prepared our citizens for a new age. In the wake of war and depression, the GI Bill sent a generation to college and created the largest middle-class in history. And a twilight struggle for freedom led to a nation of highways, an American on the moon, and an explosion of technology that still shapes our world.

In each case, government didn’t supplant private enterprise; it catalyzed private enterprise. It created the conditions for thousands of entrepreneurs and new businesses to adapt and to thrive.

We are a nation that has seen promise amid peril, and claimed opportunity from ordeal. Now we must be that nation again. That is why, even as it cuts back on the programs we don’t need, the budget I submit will invest in the three areas that are absolutely critical to our economic future: energy, health care, and education.

It begins with energy.

We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century. And yet, it is China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient. We invented solar technology, but we’ve fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it. New plug-in hybrids roll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made in Korea.

Well I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders – and I know you don’t either. It is time for America to lead again.

Thanks to our recovery plan, we will double this nation’s supply of renewable energy in the next three years. We have also made the largest investment in basic research funding in American history – an investment that will spur not only new discoveries in energy, but breakthroughs in medicine, science, and technology.

We will soon lay down thousands of miles of power lines that can carry new energy to cities and towns across this country. And we will put Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions of dollars on our energy bills.

But to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy. So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America. And to support that innovation, we will invest fifteen billion dollars a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America.

As for our auto industry, everyone recognizes that years of bad decision-making and a global recession have pushed our automakers to the brink. We should not, and will not, protect them from their own bad practices. But we are committed to the goal of a re-tooled, re-imagined auto industry that can compete and win. Millions of jobs depend on it. Scores of communities depend on it. And I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it.

None of this will come without cost, nor will it be easy. But this is America. We don’t do what’s easy. We do what is necessary to move this country forward.

For that same reason, we must also address the crushing cost of health care.

This is a cost that now causes a bankruptcy in America every thirty seconds. By the end of the year, it could cause 1.5 million Americans to lose their homes. In the last eight years, premiums have grown four times faster than wages. And in each of these years, one million more Americans have lost their health insurance. It is one of the major reasons why small businesses close their doors and corporations ship jobs overseas. And it’s one of the largest and fastest-growing parts of our budget.

Given these facts, we can no longer afford to put health care reform on hold.

Already, we have done more to advance the cause of health care reform in the last thirty days than we have in the last decade. When it was days old, this Congress passed a law to provide and protect health insurance for eleven million American children whose parents work full-time. Our recovery plan will invest in electronic health records and new technology that will reduce errors, bring down costs, ensure privacy, and save lives. It will launch a new effort to conquer a disease that has touched the life of nearly every American by seeking a cure for cancer in our time. And it makes the largest investment ever in preventive care, because that is one of the best ways to keep our people healthy and our costs under control.

This budget builds on these reforms. It includes an historic commitment to comprehensive health care reform – a down-payment on the principle that we must have quality, affordable health care for every American. It’s a commitment that’s paid for in part by efficiencies in our system that are long overdue. And it’s a step we must take if we hope to bring down our deficit in the years to come.

Now, there will be many different opinions and ideas about how to achieve reform, and that is why I’m bringing together businesses and workers, doctors and health care providers, Democrats and Republicans to begin work on this issue next week.
I suffer no illusions that this will be an easy process. It will be hard. But I also know that nearly a century after Teddy Roosevelt first called for reform, the cost of our health care has weighed down our economy and the conscience of our nation long enough. So let there be no doubt: health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year.

The third challenge we must address is the urgent need to expand the promise of education in America.

In a global economy where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity – it is a pre-requisite.

Right now, three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require more than a high school diploma. And yet, just over half of our citizens have that level of education. We have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation. And half of the students who begin college never finish.

This is a prescription for economic decline, because we know the countries that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow. That is why it will be the goal of this administration to ensure that every child has access to a complete and competitive education – from the day they are born to the day they begin a career.

Already, we have made an historic investment in education through the economic recovery plan. We have dramatically expanded early childhood education and will continue to improve its quality, because we know that the most formative learning comes in those first years of life. We have made college affordable for nearly seven million more students. And we have provided the resources necessary to prevent painful cuts and teacher layoffs that would set back our children’s progress.

But we know that our schools don’t just need more resources. They need more reform. That is why this budget creates new incentives for teacher performance; pathways for advancement, and rewards for success. We’ll invest in innovative programs that are already helping schools meet high standards and close achievement gaps. And we will expand our commitment to charter schools.

It is our responsibility as lawmakers and educators to make this system work. But it is the responsibility of every citizen to participate in it. And so tonight, I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma. And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country – and this country needs and values the talents of every American. That is why we will provide the support necessary for you to complete college and meet a new goal: by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

I know that the price of tuition is higher than ever, which is why if you are willing to volunteer in your neighborhood or give back to your community or serve your country, we will make sure that you can afford a higher education. And to encourage a renewed spirit of national service for this and future generations, I ask this Congress to send me the bipartisan legislation that bears the name of Senator Orrin Hatch as well as an American who has never stopped asking what he can do for his country – Senator Edward Kennedy.

These education policies will open the doors of opportunity for our children. But it is up to us to ensure they walk through them. In the end, there is no program or policy that can substitute for a mother or father who will attend those parent/teacher conferences, or help with homework after dinner, or turn off the TV, put away the video games, and read to their child. I speak to you not just as a President, but as a father when I say that responsibility for our children's education must begin at home.

There is, of course, another responsibility we have to our children. And that is the responsibility to ensure that we do not pass on to them a debt they cannot pay. With the deficit we inherited, the cost of the crisis we face, and the long-term challenges we must meet, it has never been more important to ensure that as our economy recovers, we do what it takes to bring this deficit down.

I’m proud that we passed the recovery plan free of earmarks, and I want to pass a budget next year that ensures that each dollar we spend reflects only our most important national priorities.
Yesterday, I held a fiscal summit where I pledged to cut the deficit in half by the end of my first term in office. My administration has also begun to go line by line through the federal budget in order to eliminate wasteful and ineffective programs. As you can imagine, this is a process that will take some time. But we’re starting with the biggest lines. We have already identified two trillion dollars in savings over the next decade.

In this budget, we will end education programs that don’t work and end direct payments to large agribusinesses that don’t need them. We’ll eliminate the no-bid contracts that have wasted billions in Iraq, and reform our defense budget so that we’re not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we don’t use. We will root out the waste, fraud, and abuse in our Medicare program that doesn’t make our seniors any healthier, and we will restore a sense of fairness and balance to our tax code by finally ending the tax breaks for corporations that ship our jobs overseas.

In order to save our children from a future of debt, we will also end the tax breaks for the wealthiest 2% of Americans. But let me perfectly clear, because I know you’ll hear the same old claims that rolling back these tax breaks means a massive tax increase on the American people: if your family earns less than $250,000 a year, you will not see your taxes increased a single dime. I repeat: not one single dime. In fact, the recovery plan provides a tax cut – that’s right, a tax cut – for 95% of working families. And these checks are on the way.

To preserve our long-term fiscal health, we must also address the growing costs in Medicare and Social Security. Comprehensive health care reform is the best way to strengthen Medicare for years to come. And we must also begin a conversation on how to do the same for Social Security, while creating tax-free universal savings accounts for all Americans.

Finally, because we’re also suffering from a deficit of trust, I am committed to restoring a sense of honesty and accountability to our budget. That is why this budget looks ahead ten years and accounts for spending that was left out under the old rules – and for the first time, that includes the full cost of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. For seven years, we have been a nation at war. No longer will we hide its price.

We are now carefully reviewing our policies in both wars, and I will soon announce a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war.

And with our friends and allies, we will forge a new and comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat al Qaeda and combat extremism. Because I will not allow terrorists to plot against the American people from safe havens half a world away.

As we meet here tonight, our men and women in uniform stand watch abroad and more are readying to deploy. To each and every one of them, and to the families who bear the quiet burden of their absence, Americans are united in sending one message: we honor your service, we are inspired by your sacrifice, and you have our unyielding support. To relieve the strain on our forces, my budget increases the number of our soldiers and Marines. And to keep our sacred trust with those who serve, we will raise their pay, and give our veterans the expanded health care and benefits that they have earned.

To overcome extremism, we must also be vigilant in upholding the values our troops defend – because there is no force in the world more powerful than the example of America. That is why I have ordered the closing of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and will seek swift and certain justice for captured terrorists – because living our values doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger. And that is why I can stand here tonight and say without exception or equivocation that the United States of America does not torture.

In words and deeds, we are showing the world that a new era of engagement has begun. For we know that America cannot meet the threats of this century alone, but the world cannot meet them without America. We cannot shun the negotiating table, nor ignore the foes or forces that could do us harm. We are instead called to move forward with the sense of confidence and candor that serious times demand.

To seek progress toward a secure and lasting peace between Israel and her neighbors, we have appointed an envoy to sustain our effort. To meet the challenges of the 21st century – from terrorism to nuclear proliferation; from pandemic disease to cyber threats to crushing poverty – we will strengthen old alliances, forge new ones, and use all elements of our national power.

And to respond to an economic crisis that is global in scope, we are working with the nations of the G-20 to restore confidence in our financial system, avoid the possibility of escalating protectionism, and spur demand for American goods in markets across the globe. For the world depends on us to have a strong economy, just as our economy depends on the strength of the world’s.

As we stand at this crossroads of history, the eyes of all people in all nations are once again upon us – watching to see what we do with this moment; waiting for us to lead.

Those of us gathered here tonight have been called to govern in extraordinary times. It is a tremendous burden, but also a great privilege – one that has been entrusted to few generations of Americans. For in our hands lies the ability to shape our world for good or for ill.
I know that it is easy to lose sight of this truth – to become cynical and doubtful; consumed with the petty and the trivial.

But in my life, I have also learned that hope is found in unlikely places; that inspiration often comes not from those with the most power or celebrity, but from the dreams and aspirations of Americans who are anything but ordinary.

I think about Leonard Abess, the bank president from Miami who reportedly cashed out of his company, took a $60 million bonus, and gave it out to all 399 people who worked for him, plus another 72 who used to work for him. He didn’t tell anyone, but when the local newspaper found out, he simply said, ''I knew some of these people since I was 7 years old. I didn't feel right getting the money myself."

I think about Greensburg, Kansas, a town that was completely destroyed by a tornado, but is being rebuilt by its residents as a global example of how clean energy can power an entire community – how it can bring jobs and businesses to a place where piles of bricks and rubble once lay. "The tragedy was terrible," said one of the men who helped them rebuild. "But the folks here know that it also provided an incredible opportunity."

And I think about Ty’Sheoma Bethea, the young girl from that school I visited in Dillon, South Carolina – a place where the ceilings leak, the paint peels off the walls, and they have to stop teaching six times a day because the train barrels by their classroom. She has been told that her school is hopeless, but the other day after class she went to the public library and typed up a letter to the people sitting in this room. She even asked her principal for the money to buy a stamp. The letter asks us for help, and says, "We are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president, so we can make a change to not just the state of South Carolina but also the world. We are not quitters."

We are not quitters.

These words and these stories tell us something about the spirit of the people who sent us here. They tell us that even in the most trying times, amid the most difficult circumstances, there is a generosity, a resilience, a decency, and a determination that perseveres; a willingness to take responsibility for our future and for posterity.

Their resolve must be our inspiration. Their concerns must be our cause. And we must show them and all our people that we are equal to the task before us.

I know that we haven’t agreed on every issue thus far, and there are surely times in the future when we will part ways. But I also know that every American who is sitting here tonight loves this country and wants it to succeed. That must be the starting point for every debate we have in the coming months, and where we return after those debates are done. That is the foundation on which the American people expect us to build common ground.

And if we do – if we come together and lift this nation from the depths of this crisis; if we put our people back to work and restart the engine of our prosperity; if we confront without fear the challenges of our time and summon that enduring spirit of an America that does not quit, then someday years from now our children can tell their children that this was the time when we performed, in the words that are carved into this very chamber, "something worthy to be remembered." Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.

The Roots of Liberal Condescension

The Roots of Liberal Condescension, by William Voegeli
Snobbery is the last refuge of the liberal-arts major.
The Wall Street Journal, Feb 25, 2009

John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin to be his running mate set off a fiercely contemptuous reaction. The chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party said Mrs. Palin's sole qualification for high office was that she had never had an abortion. The comedian Bill Maher scoffed at the idea that "this stewardess" would be first in the line of succession. The scorn moved The Atlantic Monthly's Clive Crook to write that "the metropolitan liberal, in my experience, regards overt religious identity as vulgar, and evangelical Christianity as an infallible marker of mental retardation. Flag-waving patriotism is seen as a joke and an embarrassment."

The denunciation of Palin took place 45 years after William F. Buckley Jr. wrote: "I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University." From Richard Nixon's invoking the "silent majority" to Mrs. Palin's campaigning as a devout, plainspoken hockey mom, conservatives have claimed that they share the common sense of the common man. Liberals—from Adlai Stevenson to Barack Obama to innumerable writers, artists and academics—have often been willing foils in this drama, unable to stop themselves from disparaging the very people whose votes are indispensable to the liberal cause. The elephant-in-the-room irony is that the liberal cause is supposed to be about improving the prospects and economic security of ordinary Americans, whose beliefs and intelligence liberals so often enjoy deriding.

Buckley's identification of the political fault line running beneath the campus quadrangle was confirmed by "UD," a blogger for "Inside Higher Ed." Belittling Mrs. Palin's degree in communications from the University of Idaho, UD concluded, "A lot of Americans don't seem to like highly educated people, and they don't want them running the country." He continued:

We need to encourage everyone to be in college for as many years as they possibly can, in the hope that somewhere along the line they might get some exposure to the world outside their town, and to moral ideas not exclusively derived from their parents' religion. If they don't get this in college, they're not going to get it anywhere else.

Thus, higher education is remedial education, and the affliction it remedies is an American upbringing.

Buckley, it must be noted, was an improbable champion of conservative populism. By 1963, still in his 30s, he had already created a public persona "that may be unique in our cultural history," according to a recent Boston Review article by the journalist William Hogeland. "Buckley's perfectly phrased insults and languorous polysyllabery made him the pop-culture model of intellectual, cultural, and verbal advancement, an unflappable connoisseur, guardian of the best ever thought and said by man." Even when siding with the masses against the professoriate, Buckley formulated his preference with the sort of fusty grammatical precision ("I should sooner live") appreciated in faculty lounges but alien to VFW halls.

We can make sense of this incongruity by moving beyond his famous line about the telephone directory to the rarely quoted explanation for why he would oppose being governed by eminent scholars:

Not, heaven knows, because I hold lightly the brainpower or knowledge or generosity or even the affability of the Harvard faculty: but because I greatly fear intellectual arrogance, and that is a distinguishing characteristic of the university which refuses to accept any common premise. In the deliberations of two thousand citizens of Boston I think one would discern a respect for the laws of God and for the wisdom of our ancestors which does not characterize the thought of Harvard professors—who, to the extent that they believe in God at all, tend to believe He made some terrible mistakes which they would undertake to rectify; and, when they are paying homage to the wisdom of our ancestors, tend to do so with a kind of condescension toward those whose accomplishments we long since surpassed.

Later in the essay, "The Aimlessness of American Education," Buckley elaborated on the "common premise" the university rejected: "The Ten Commandments do not sit about shaking, awaiting their inevitable deposition by some swashbuckling professor of ethics. Certain great truths have been apprehended. In the field of morality, all the basic truths have been apprehended."

Buckley's position, then, is not really populist. The ism of populism is the idea that the people are inherently more sound and virtuous than the elites. Buckley is saying, less categorically, that we live in an age when the people happen to possess better judgment than the professors. If the reverse were true, if the professors had more respect than the people for God's laws and tradition's wisdom, Buckley's argument would have favored entrusting government pari passu (as he would have said) to scholars instead of citizens.

What sets the people in the phonebook apart from the professors, according to this argument, is that they believe in and defer to profound truths existing outside of history. They are willing, furthermore, to accept that the "democracy of the dead," incorporating the cumulative judgment of people long gone and forgotten, might well have grasped those truths better than people, even very smart people, who happen to be alive at this moment.

The professors, by contrast, expect to be deferred to, not to be the ones deferring. Their "intellectual arrogance" is a consequence of the assumptions of progressivism, an ism that treats progress as the fundamental reality. The belief in progress is the belief that the present is better and wiser than the past, and the future will be better and wiser than the present. Truths outside of history, such as the laws of nature and nature's God, either don't exist, can't be known, or don't matter. Unlike the Marxist, the progressive does not believe history is following a defined path to a specific, inevitable conclusion. Rather, the evolution of human society is constant and eternal. Its entirety is unknowable, the idea that it has an ultimate destination a complete misconception, but history's next phase can be discerned by some better than others.

By virtue of being highly educated, eminent scholars can see farther over the horizon than their countrymen and mediate the transition from where we are to where we are going. The most important progressive, Woodrow Wilson, president of Princeton University and of the American Political Science Association before he became president of the United States, said that if a statesman is to be a leader, he must assess "the preparation of the nation for the next move in the progress of politics." It's counterproductive for the statesman to lecture or hector, but the superiority of his insight into the direction of historical development is not in doubt: "The forces of the public thought may be blind: he must lend them sight; they may blunder: he must set them right."

Progressives and their liberal progeny have found it increasingly difficult to maintain a respectful attitude toward the citizens who need to be led to a better future, despite Wilson's own insistence on such respect for fellow citizens. "No reform may succeed for which the major thought of the nation is not prepared," he wrote. "The instructed few may not be safe leaders, except in so far as they have communicated their instruction to the many, except in so far as they have transmuted their thought into a common, a popular thought."

At one level, the problem is simply pedagogical. The professor cannot impart to the students lessons they are not equipped to absorb. The calculus lecture will fail, no matter how well it has been prepared, if it is delivered to students who can't multiply. The political leader, like the actor or teacher, must know his audience—know its needs and its limitations.

The harder part about following Wilson's advice is political. The professor who tries to teach students lessons they are not prepared to learn runs the risk of being tuned out. In a democracy, the leader who tries to direct the many where they are not prepared to go runs the risk of being voted out. The leader needs to "test and calculate" the nation's readiness to move to its next stage of development, but he must do so "very circumspectly." The perfectly circumspect statesman will lead the people without their even realizing they have been led—persuading them not only to go to history's next destination, but also that it is exactly where they had been intending to travel all along.

The statesmanship Wilson called for is rare for two reasons. First, the circumspection he sought is hard to render. It requires penetrating discernment of the people's undefined aspirations, and then enormous subtlety in addressing the people so that they embrace, as their own idea, the leader's perception of "the direction of the nation's permanent forces."

Second, it is hard to want to render. Ronald Reagan used to say, "There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go, if he doesn't mind who gets the credit." Not many people indifferent to getting the credit wind up in politics, however. The statesmanship Wilson described becomes more effective as the statesman becomes more self-effacing. The sort of leader happy to accept being forgotten by history and taken for granted by his contemporaries if it means making a big difference is rare, at best. Wilson himself found it hard to follow his own advice when it mattered. Georges Clemenceau's famous complaint that Wilson's Fourteen Points were four more than God handed down does not suggest that Wilson's peers found him diffident or circumspect.

The desire for distinction is not simply a problem for democracy, however, but a problem of democracy. People who have social ambitions, but not necessarily political ones, will find it gratifying to regard themselves and be regarded by others as among Wilson's "instructed few," and appalling to be lumped together with the uninstructed many. "Let me smile with the wise, and feed with the rich," said Samuel Johnson. In our age of widespread affluence, when people can be dangerously well-fed without being rich, the desire to be numbered among the wise when smiles are shared becomes especially urgent. As Leon Wieseltier wrote about the controversial New Yorker cover depicting Michelle and Barack Obama as violent radicals, "The image was the creation of people for whom there is almost nothing more mortifying than not being in on the joke. That is the bridge and tunnel of the soul."

Aristocracy hasn't shown signs of staging a comeback since Tocqueville wrote "Democracy in America" 175 years ago. We should feel safer than he did, then, in taking note of its virtues. Rigid hierarchies often got things horribly wrong, conferring power and prestige on fools, thugs and slobs, while consigning people who had much to offer to marginalized, precarious lives. There must have been something restful, however, about life in a society where people weren't constantly trying to prove themselves.

The only sort of aristocracy tolerable to a democratic age is a natural aristocracy, where earning eminence, an opportunity closed to none, is the sole path to it. The social aristocrat could take his position for granted; he lived in a society where everybody knew his place. The natural aristocrat, living in a society where everyone must secure and defend a place, can't take anything for granted. His need to evince the talent, taste and intelligence to justify a place with the instructed few is as exacting, and exhausting, as the Calvinist's need to evince in this life the signs of grace that reveal a soul predestined to dwell with God in the next.

Joseph Epstein has written two books about the problem of eminence in a nation of equals. "Ambition" (1980) examines the tricky business of establishing a claim to be one of nature's aristocrats. "Snobbery" (2002) concerns the equally tricky business of asserting such a claim.
Ambition is hard because it's inherently difficult to make an impression on the world. Beyond that, ambition is tricky because we expect the natural aristocrat to resemble the social aristocrat, to show a winning effortlessness and an unruffled indifference to the opinions of the many. With the striver, however, we always see the wheels turning and sense the hunger.

In 1935 Franklin Roosevelt said, "Those words 'freedom' and 'opportunity' do not mean a license to climb upwards by pushing other people down." It turned out, contrary to the belief of many New Dealers, that America was not a "mature economy," where the nation's wealth, having already increased as far as it ever would, had to be administratively allocated lest it be fought over, viciously and destructively. Prosperity need not be a zero-sum game, but status can never be anything else. Part of our disapproval of ambition is defensive; the striver's success in climbing upwards may not push us down, exactly, but leaves us further from the top nonetheless.

As a consequence, writes Epstein, "ambition is increasingly associated in the public mind chiefly with human characteristics held to be despicable." In addition to being aggressive, the ambitious person is "generally thought to be single-minded, narrowly concentrated in purpose, bereft of such distracting qualities as charm, sympathy, imagination, or introspection of the kind that leads to self-doubt." Consequently,

Perhaps the one novel that no serious writer in America would care to write today is one about a man who sets out to succeed in life and does so through work, decisive action, and discretion, without stepping on anyone's neck, without causing his family suffering, without himself becoming stupid or inhumane. . . . It is a novel unlikely to get written so long as that other, more familiar novel—which has the ambitious man or woman confront society and either go under or win out only at the cost of his or her decency—provides, as it evidently does, so much comfort.

Harvey Mansfield observes that in America, "the general rule for business and culture has been the one stated by Madison for politics: let ambition counteract ambition." The reliance on ambition to check ambition, however, cannot easily accommodate the disdain for ambition and the ambitious that Epstein describes. The basis of that disdain is Rousseau's anathematization of the bourgeois, an idea that seems not to have crossed the Atlantic and cleared customs by the time the Constitution was written. According to Allan Bloom:

The word [bourgeois] has a strong negative charge, and practically no one wants to be merely a bourgeois. The artists and the intellectuals have almost universally despised him and in large measure defined themselves against him. The bourgeois is unpoetic, unerotic, unheroic. . . . [All] sorts of reforms are perennially proposed to correct his motives or counterbalance them.

For people who want to be rich, famous, or powerful, ambition will be required. For people who disdain these ambitions as bourgeois—vulgar, hollow, invidious—the reliance on ambition to curb ambition provides no reassurance whatsoever. Doing so only intensifies a competition that the Rousseauian critic of the bourgeois believes is fundamentally destructive, both to social harmony and individuals' psychological health. To counteract others' ambitions with one's own, for such a critic, is self-negating: even if you win, you lose, just by having been dragged into that contest.

Thus, if patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, snobbery is the last refuge of the liberal-arts major. The striver may wind up with the bigger house, better car and nicer vacations, but the very meretriciousness of these aspirations confirms the liberal arts major's belief in the striver's inferior taste and barren inner life. Conspicuous consumption advertises not the wealth but the cluelessness of the consumer who acquires to flaunt. It has been supplanted by conspicuous disdain for conspicuous consumption. The Toyota Prius is a testament to its driver's virtue, not a mark of his prosperity. Its distinctive homeliness has made it a hit, at a time when Honda has cancelled production of the hybrid version of the Accord: it turned out nobody wanted to buy a hybrid that was indistinguishable from an iceberg-melting V-6.

In some ways, the liberal arts major's path has grown less steep. As David Brooks showed in "Bobos in Paradise" (2000), the new bourgeois bohemians have figured out a way to have their pesto and eat it, too. They can have nice homes, cars, clothes and vacations—as long as all those consumption items are ones that the Babbitts wouldn't buy, wouldn't like, and whose appeal they'd find mystifying. The Bobo can pay for his socially correct lifestyle by working in a socially correct career—in Silicon Valley, a public-interest law firm, a startup involved with the internet or renewable energy; anything where work "becomes a vocation, a calling, a métier," according to Mr. Brooks.

In other ways, however, the rise of the Bobo has only made life harder for the liberal arts major. Everything signifies. The wrong address, career, alma mater, car, accent or attitude could undermine his claim to be among the instructed few. It's harrowing, and it's exhausting.

In "Nation of Rebels" (2004), Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter argue that taste is a "positional good." By "reproducing status hierarchies," good taste "confers a sense of almost unassailable superiority upon its possessor." Furthermore, they argue, good taste is mostly a matter of good distaste: the positional value of denigrating the wrong things is more important, and more reliable, than appreciating the right things. The only status advantage to be gained by liking Disney World and Nascar comes from liking them ironically, conveying that you're in on the joke. As the author Tad Friend has argued, this desperate business of showing the world you have the aesthetically correct vantage point on popular culture "is rare among those who genuinely respect high art," since they find the alternatives to what they care about uninteresting, but also unthreatening.

Our age has seen political disdain become seamlessly integrated into cultural disdain. The prominent novelist E.L. Doctorow showed the way in 1980 when he wrote that Ronald Reagan had grown up in "just the sorts of places [small towns in Illinois] responsible for one of the raging themes of American literature, the soul-murdering complacency of our provinces. . . . The best and brightest fled all our Galesburgs and Dixons, if they could, but the candidate was not among them." Reagan did attend college, but not the kind that would have given him some exposure to the world outside the soul-murdering towns where he grew up, and to moral ideas calling into question his parents' religion. Instead, wrote Mr. Doctorow, a "third-rate student at a fifth-rate college could learn from the stage, the debating platform, the gridiron and the fraternity party the styles of manliness and verbal sincerity that would stand him in good stead when the time came to make his mark in the world." Achieving success in his first job out of college, as a radio announcer in Des Moines, Reagan made a number of local speaking engagements, "giving talks to fraternal lodges, boys' clubs and the like, telling sports stories and deriving from them Y.M.C.A. sorts of morals."

We see here all the basic elements, employed for the past 28 years, of liberal condescension. Every issue of The New Yorker, Vanity Fair or Rolling Stone makes clear that the policy positions of George W. Bush, Republicans and conservatives in general are wicked and stupid. The real problem, however, is that everything about these people—where they reside, what they believe, how they live, work, recreate, talk and think—is in irredeemably bad taste. To embark on a conversation with one of them, based on straight-faced openness to the possibility of learning something interesting or important, would be like choosing to vacation in Wichita instead of Tuscany.

Political parties have traditionally been coalitions held together by beliefs and interests. The modern Democratic Party may be the first in which the mortar is a shared sensibility. The cool kids disdain the dorks, and find it infuriating and baffling that they ever lose a class election to them.

This disdain is not only inefficacious, however, but unsatisfying. The problem with the superior attitude—either you get the joke, or you are the joke—is that the people being condescended to probably aren't smart enough to realize that they are being mocked. The novelist Jane Smiley calls this "the unteachable ignorance of the red states." When the instructed few can't lead the uninstructed many by means of Wilsonian circumspection, or cow them into submission using condescension, the fallback tactic is épater la bourgeoisie.

Intellectuals are the point of the spear. Richard Hofstadter devoted a book in 1963 to examining "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life." He was a war correspondent who confined his reporting to the shots fired in just one direction, however, saying nothing about anti-Americanism in intellectual life. Part of that anti-Americanism is to equate intellectual seriousness with the European disdain for America as a society more barbaric than civilized. A film producer, interviewed on the Upper West Side by the New York Times the day after the 2004 election, subscribed to this view. "New York is an island off the coast of Europe," she said, explaining how John Kerry could lose a national election while winning 83% of the votes in Manhattan. Her remark echoed the famous comment by Pauline Kael, The New Yorker's film critic, to the Modern Language Association a few weeks after the 1972 election: "I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they [Nixon's supporters] are I don't know. They're outside my ken. But sometimes when I'm in a theater I can feel them."

Another part of the program is to confound the complacent assumptions of American patriotism. Not only has America's past been bloody and shameful in ways the uninstructed few must be made to realize, but the supposed depredations of America's "enemies" are, upon examination, understandable and even admirable. Mark Lilla's book, "The Reckless Mind" (2001), examines such "philotyrannical intellectuals."

The late Susan Sontag was forbiddingly erudite—an essayist, novelist, playwright and critic. There's not a community college dropout in America, however, gullible enough to have traveled to Hanoi and reported back, as she did in 1968, "The North Vietnamese genuinely care about the welfare of the hundreds of captured American pilots and give them bigger rations than the Vietnamese population gets, 'because they're bigger than we are,' as a Vietnamese army officer told me, 'and they're used to more meat than we are.' "

Three additional decades of reading, writing and reflecting did not enhance Sontag's judgment. Her famous reaction to 9/11 was:

Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a "cowardly" attack on "civilization" or "liberty" or "humanity" or "the free world" but an attack on the world's self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions? . . . In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): Whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Tuesday's slaughter, they were not cowards.

Stipulated, then: Slitting the throats of airline crew members to carry out a suicide bombing is an act of bravery.

By the same token, whatever the correct assessment of Sarah Palin's abilities and limitations, it's impossible to imagine that it would have taken her 20 years of close contact with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright to notice that he sincerely believes a number of toxic, lunatic ideas. The thread connecting all of these—that 9/11 was a minor incident compared to the terrorism undertaken by the U.S., that AIDS was inflicted on Americans through deliberate government policies, that Louis Farrakhan is one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century—is that America is a wicked, contemptible place, and there is no such thing as an excessive criticism of it. Barack Obama's degrees from Columbia and Harvard law school may be proof of intellectual agility, but they do not guarantee good sense. For this, as William Buckley suggested 45 years ago, we are better advised to rely on graduates of the University of Idaho, or even the opinions of stewardesses.

Mr. Voegeli is a visiting scholar at Claremont McKenna College's Henry Salvatori Center and a contributing editor to the Claremont Review of Books.