The debt ceiling debate is less about spending than it is about the purpose of government. Under the impact of an economic recession, the train of the Great Society is approaching the edge of the New Frontier. Both sides are still trying to work out a New Deal, but another cuts and spending formula is not the solution. What we need is a serious and earnest discussion about why we are compulsively spending money.
Our cocaine is social justice. Like most junkies who are willing to sell anything and everything to keep the supply coming, Obama's position in the budget debate is take everything-- especially the military, but leave the social justice and the big government that administers it on the table. And also like most junkies, he has an endless supply of self-righteous speeches denouncing the people who just want him to stop.
In the rush of words, he postures, conflates compromise with confrontation, threatens and urges everyone to work together. There is no consistent message, only egotistical aggression and defensive need. Strip away the verbiage and you come away with a chorus of, "Mine, My Way, Mine".
With all addictions, it is important to look for the root cause. The psychological weakness that allows the chemical rush to take over and become the defining principle of life. In this case it is a basic split over the purpose of government.
These competing visions of government are rival philosophies with differing views on human nature. They cannot even agree on what the nature of "fair" is and that makes reconciling on a national agenda nearly impossible. Is fairness socially determined or self-determined. Is it the function of government to spread the wealth or to protect a system where wealth acquisition is accessible. Is the economy a function of individual choices or organizational mandates.
Government as the caretaker of the system and of Big Aunty who uses the system to make society fairer. Both claim populist allegiances but any system that sets out to remake society is doomed to an elitist and totalitarian nature. The only authentic populists are protesting in reaction to Big Aunty and her nanny state.
The functional state is clashing with the utopian state. The functionalists want to trim back the utopian programs of the state and pare it back down to its vital functions. But the utopians don't even recognize the economy as something apart from the dictates of the state. Spending never has to be regulated, because it is only a micro-function of their system whose negative effects can be nullified through other programs. Or, "Why cut spending when you can just print more money."
The economic solipsism of the left may be irresponsible lunacy, but it is part and parcel of their approach to everything. Their utopian state and its philosopher-czars are given the power to alter everything without a single ray of light allowed to penetrate the gloom of their dogma.
In the utopian mandate, it is irresponsible to have power and then not to use it to improve the country, just as having wealth without employing it for the betterment of mankind makes you a selfish person. They cannot conceive of reasons not to use power and so their only function becomes total control. Any position or office that they gain is immediately dedicated to the cause.
The functionalists and even many ordinary people see this behavior as frighteningly totalitarian. But the utopians view themselves as reformers, it never occurs to them that the era when they were reformers is long past, and that it is they who are in need of reform.
The Utopian system is approaching a crunch point. Like every leftist experiment before it, its economic solipsism has put it on a collision course with reality. But the philosopher-czars are not about to take their feet off the gas pedal.
A political philosophy that claims to explain everything is like a blindfold. When everything is political, then there is no reality outside the definitions of dogma. Nothing to see "out there" that you cannot find in a politically approved text on the subject. The only way to recognize that something is wrong, is to poke your heads outside. And that is a blasphemous heresy.
So the utopians drive ahead immersed in a detailed subjective reality masquerading as objective reality. But the subjective reality is entirely of their creation. Every element of it, from the media to the economics to the grass roots organizations, is manipulated by them. And this reality appears to be absolutely perfect to them, until elements from the outside world intrude on it.
When those elements intrude, a race is on to explain their appearance in a politically correct manner. "The sky isn't falling, it's just a natural phenomena. Just as we predicted."
The left fails at economics so often because there is so much theory to it, but also an inescapable reality. While they get lost building their castles of air in the upper stories, the reality of the marketplace inevitably catches up to them. Then like most utopians they are forced to realize that control is never total, that the human factor is individualistic and chaotic. That controlling the government, the press and even the clergy is not the same as absolute power.
The left exists only in two phases, as governments and anti-governments. The Nanny State and the anarchist. Both are two sides of the same coin. Either governments are completely just or completely unjust. The self-definition purely in terms of authority, as either for or against, makes it difficult for it to break with its own impulse toward power. And the absolutism is totalitarian in its irreconcilability and its primally dangerous ruthlessness.
Behind the Great Society rhetoric is that same polar dogmatism, the unwillingness to accept the morality of a democratic system that is not aimed at enforcing a just society on their terms. Any system that is not power mad must be unjust. A means of protecting the powerful from the redistributive wrath of the graduating class of Evergreen State College.
So the utopians cannot accept the functionalist notion of government as a means of conducting vital functions on behalf of the people, rather than the utopian tool of transforming the people into a great society with seven academic degrees for everyone and recycling at every curb. Such a system is not a moral one to them and they are duty bound to resist it. And the functionalists similarly cannot accept a system that deprives them of agency by overlaying its political code over every aspect of their lives.
But it is the utopians and their economic policies who have forced their own moment to its crisis. Had Obama not won, they would have been able to comfortably sit back and blame Bush era policies for the mess. But their will to power also undid them. It gave them so much power that they are choking on it. With predictable blindness they exploited the crisis for all it was worth and are now left holding the bag. And their policies are now at the center of the debate.
But deeper still is the question of the place of government in the political and economic life of the American. This moment is a wake up call for a country that has been willing to avoid looking too closely at the fine print of the social programs and the total cost of the national debt. And the real question that drifts out of the debates is not about spending cuts, but about the role of government.
The utopian conception of government is not only a freedom deficit, but a functional deficit. The former is obvious, but the latter is often less obvious. The left is often dinged for its controlling ways, but less often for its incompetence. The debt crisis is a moment to speak about the left's philosophy of government as not only an assault on freedom, but the destruction of functional government. The public is more forgiving of tyrants, than they are of idiots. More tolerant of trespasses of power, than of foolish incompetence.
The social justice cocaine that the left is hooked on, and on which it has hooked the Democratic party, is an insidious corruption. And the dysfunctional Nanny State they have created is not only a devouring monster, but a failure at the essentials. At the edge of the new frontier, to look down is to see the iron carcasses of countless leftist trains and trams that have come this way before. And to look up is to behold a towering pile of debt that they cannot account for or resolve without dismantling the functional government and leaving behind nothing but debt creation and debt collection agencies.
The left has proven that it cannot run a functional government and that it is unable to govern from reality, than from their own little red books. The cliff's edge is approaching. It's time for a responsible driver at the wheel.