Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Existential Conversation

Thanks to a friend who has kindly been forwarding them to me, I’ve been reading a few editorials by fiscal conservatives. These articles tend to be the intellectual equivalent of Evel Knievel’s attempt to rocket across the Snake River Canyon—the leaps of logic are sometimes breathtaking.

For example, a March 3 WSJ piece attempted to blame the five-week-old Obama administration for the fact that the economy hasn’t already begun to spring back. (Doctor, the patient is already prepped for heart surgery! Why can’t he go home now?)

In a publication called The Business Insider, John Carney puts an interesting spin on the matter of credit default swaps—the practice of selling bogus insurance on extremely risky (if not downright worthless) business assets. He blames this practice on the one measly, inadequate banking regulation that the Republicans failed to demolish in all their years in power—the one that says banks have to have assets enough to cover their commitments to investors. The riskier their assets, the more money they have to keep in reserve. So to get around this common-sense requirement, banks were “forced” to find some way to “maximize their profits” without being responsible to investors. They did this by bluffing about the value of their assets—and selling insurance on them, over and over again. That’s like a life insurance company with $1 million dollars selling numerous $500,000 policies on the same person; if they guy dies, everybody’s screwed.

And mind you, the companies “had to” do that to get around the regulation. This reminds me of a kid who once told me that he “had to” steal a car because his parents wouldn’t let him drive theirs.

In an extremely convoluted essay filled with the typical shotgun rhetoric of people who proselytize, conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer seems to claim that the Obama administration is blaming the economic crisis on “energy, health care, and education” and using these issues to justify sweeping economic proposals. Evidently it’s not the logic of this piece of writing (which, admittedly, escapes me) but the strident, aggrieved tone that’s meant to please his readers. In all fairness to the author, I doubt if I fit the profile of his target audience—this essay was intended for believers.

This brings me to what I perceive to be a difference in discourse between the Right and the Left these days—and perhaps the one area in which I fear, in my worst moments, that President Obama may be so idealistic as to be a bit out of touch with reality. Progressives and liberals keep trying to reach “consensus” through reason and persuasion. Conservatives simply seem to want to make converts. No wonder the conservative movement has had such affinity for so many years with the Christian Coalition—the whole enterprise seems to be based on creed and blind faith.

So, now . . . who’s been drinking the Cool Aid?

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