Sunday, October 17, 2010

A study in contrasts

I hadn't seen it before yesterday's post, but Joe Klein nicely highlights the distinction between the experts being targeted by the right-wing know-nothing movement and the elites whose interests clearly conflict with those of the balance of society:
Christine O'Donnell is not like that. She is attractive, to some, because she doesn't know anything. She couldn't name a Supreme Court decision she disagreed with, not even Roe v. Wade. There is no way she could ever be confused with a member of the elites; there is no way she could be confused with an above average high school student. Her ignorance, therefore, makes her authentic--the holy grail of latter-day American politics: she's a real person, not like those phony politicians. In that sense, she--and the lifeboat filled with other Tea Party know-nothings--follow in the wake of our leading exemplar of ignorant authenticity, Sarah Palin (who seems every bit as unaware of public policy--she certainly never talks about it--as she was when a desperate and petulant John McCain chose her to be his running mate).

There is something profoundly diseased about a society that idolizes its ignoramuses and disdains its experts. It is a society that no longer takes itself seriously.
People like Steve (Rattner) have populated Administrations of both parties at the highest levels, especially in the Treasury Department (indeed, Rattner once hoped to be Treasury Secretary). From Bob Rubin to Hank Paulson, recent Presidents have turned to financiers who gained fame by making deals rather than by making products (the current Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, never was a Wall Street dealmaker, but he comes from that world). Their disastrous chicanery is part of the reason--a good part of the reason--why voters are rebelling against expertise this year.

It occurs to me that George W. Bush had the right idea the first time around, hiring Paul O'Neill, who came from the world of manufacturing, as his Treasury Secretary--and then, of course, he fired O'Neill, who couldn't stand the irresponsibility of Bush's economic policies.

I am not saying that Steve Rattner is directly to blame for Christine O'Donnell. But he is part of a generation of financiers, the most respected figures in our society, who have been disgraced utterly by their greed and shenanigans--and who have made the world safe for Mama Grizzlies.

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