Big plots that fizzle...

Let me start by saying that I never said there weren't any conspiracies. Any time two or more people agree to do something, there's a conspiracy. It's just that the big, grand, magical conspiracies, if they exist, tend not to work.

I just read Megan McArdle's piece on doom and gloom, and here's an excerpt I like:

The shape of liberty has changed over the 200 years of our existence, expanding in some places and contracting in others. There is no libertarian eden, located somewhere in the American past, from which we are now fallen, or falling.

Now, this doesn't mean that the Patriot Act is a good thing. But the fact that we have the Patriot Act now does not mean, as many libertarians ardently argue, that we will always have the Patriot Act. If the Patriot Act is bad, we should vigorously fight it. But there is no need to construct doomsday scenarios in which the existance of the Patriot Act consigns us to a totalitarian future.

Not to dump on libertarians exclusively, because everyone seems to do it. Social conservatives think we're doomed because the institution of marriage has been dangerously undermined, and is therefore likely to disappear entirely, along with God, patriotism, and the super-sized big mac meal, if we don't do something, quick. A large number of wonkish types (including, on odd days, me) spend a lot of time worrying about the possibility that our old-age entitlements will drive us into disastrous bankruptcy; few of us stop to reflect on the many, many unsustainable economic trends that have worried policy wonks right up until the moment that the impending doom suddenly solved itself under the inexorable logic of Herb Stein's famous dictum: "If something can't go on forever, it won't." Many liberals, like Paul Krugman, think that we nearly got into socioeconomic eden sometime around 1966, give or take, and have been staging a fast retreat towards armageddon ever since; marginal tax rates and some forms of social spending here take the part of doom-bringer, even though on every measure except simple inequality, the lives of the poor and the middle class seem to be richer in material goods, leisure, and quality of work than they were in the Golden Era of America's Middle Class.

That's not to say that liberals shouldn't want more progressive taxes and social spending, policy wonks more sustainably structured entitlements, social conservatives more traditional cultural values, or libertarians more freedom. It's perfectly reasonable to look at the way things are and say "they could be so much better if . . . " What we shouldn't do is compare our present to some highly airbrushed past, or mindlessly extrapolate trends, and thereby hastily conclude that we're all going to hell in a handbasket. (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

Are we all victims of a big plot? Is the sky falling? If only life were so simple!

I want to address an idea which has gained quite a bit of traction lately, and which I touched on in the last post: that George W. Bush is an evil would-be dictator who was behind 9-11 so that the Neocons could launch a giant war and end up ruling the world while destroying what's left of freedom in the United States.

I recall similar thinking about Richard Nixon. A massive wave of hysteria swept the country, with many people saying that Nixon had "shredded the Constitution" (if the bungled Watergate burglary, an "enemies list," and a special unit dedicated to stopping wartime leaks of classified material was that), and that he was going to suspend the elections, etc.

Nixon certainly had his chance to seize all power and do these terrible things, and guess what? He resigned rather than be impeached. Didn't go out with a bang; just a whimper.


Same reason he didn't demand a recount in 1960 despite the Daley shenanigans; he thought it would be bad for the country.

Some "dictator."

Bush is being demonized much the same way Nixon was, and even assuming for the sake of argument that he wants to institute a totalitarian government (something I doubt), history shows that he couldn't do it if he wanted. He watches the polls, worries about his numbers, and of course wants to win the November election. But if he loses, there won't be a military takeover. He'll just exit the White House, and Kerry will enter!

I could be wrong of course, but I've lived long enough and seen enough of politics to doubt it.

If Bush wins, guess what! He'll have a second term, and then who knows? If he even attempted a totalitarian takeover, he'd be impeached so fast it would make everyone's head spin. Bush has to deal with the Supreme Court, Congress, the mainstream media, the blogosphere, and even public opinion.

Just like any other president.

(Hey, and maybe even the military might not take kindly to a president canceling elections and seizing power....)

Which is why I am not terribly impressed by claims that 9-11 was a big plot to seize power by the Neocons. I don't think they'd get away with it. There are too many other spheres of influence and power.

Sorry it's not a more exciting post, but I think the doom and gloom, sky-is-falling stuff is quite misguided. And highly overrated. And (in this country at least) not well grounded in history.

Bear in mind that this is coming from a pretty gloomy, ultimately doomed person. We're all doomed, too.

Well? Does anyone expect to get out of life alive?

posted by Eric on 05.17.04 at 12:24 AM


Funny. Great classical arguments why a Republican can't take over the country. So a frontal assault won't work. Let's try a different tactic. How about controlling the press, blocking judicial appointments, letting loose organized labor as the occupying army of choice, keeping the lower and middle class down while at the same time promising that government programs are "really" helping them, locking down free enterprise and draining the blood out of entreprenurial turnip. Weaken our armed forces so they not only cannot police the world, but that they can only defend the new "peoples" government of liberal Democrats. More scary than you thought.

RD   ·  May 18, 2004 7:48 AM

Excellent points. I hope both parties block each others' judicial appointments and filibuster each other's legislation. Keep Borks and any more Scalias off the Supreme Court and also keep gun-haters off the Supreme Court. Keep bad legislation, when it be any more gun control or an Federal Anti-Marriage Amendment, from passing. Gridlock is good. It was a great day when Gingrich and Clinton, between them, shut down most of the federal government for a while. There's no government like no government, as they say. I say the Supreme Court should strike down more legislation. We need to get conservatives back the way they were before the New Deal, when they opposed most government and supported a strong, independent judiciary, and emphasized that America was founded to be a Constitutional republic and not a democracy. Turn back the clock. I'd like to turn it back to 2004 B.C.. I'm a reactionary.

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