by Victor Davis Hanson
We live in a therapeutic age, one in which the old tragic view of our ancestors has been replaced by prolonged adolescence. Adolescents hold adult notions of consumption: they understand the comfort of a pricey car; they appreciate the status conveyed by a particular sort of handbag or sunglasses; they sense how outward consumption and refined tastes can translate into popularity and envy; and they appreciate how a slogan or worldview can win acceptance among peers without worry over its validity. But they have no adult sense of acquisition, themselves not paying taxes, balancing the family budget, or worrying about household insurance, maintenance, or debt. Theirs is a worldview of today or tomorrow, not of next year — or even of next week.
So adolescents throw fits when denied a hip sweater or a trip to Disneyland, concluding that it is somehow “unfair” or “mean,” without concern about the funds available to grant their agendas. We see now just that adolescent mind in Wisconsin. “They” surely can come up with the money from someone (“the rich”) somehow to pay teachers and public servants what they deserve. And what they deserve is determined not by comparable rates in private enterprise, or by market value (if the DMV clerk loses a job, does another public bureau or private company inevitably seize the opportunity to hire such a valuable worker at comparable or improved wages?), or by results produced (improved test scores, more applicants processed in an office, overhead reduced, etc.), or by what the strapped state is able to provide, but by what is deemed to be necessary to ensure an upper-middle class lifestyle. That is altogether understandable and decent, but it is entirely adolescent in a globalized economy.
Why so? In a word, the United States is not producing enough real wealth to justify a particular standard of living among its public workforce far superior to counterparts in the private sector. We are borrowing massively abroad for redistributive entitlements. We fight wars with credit cards. We talk of cap-and-trade and “climate change” without prior worry about how to fuel the United States, as we sink in perpetual debt to import well over half our oil. We have open borders and pat ourselves on our backs for the ensuing “diversity,” without worry that illegality and lack of reverence for federal laws, absence of English, no diplomas, multiculturalism instead of the melting pot, the cynicism and chauvinism of Mexico, and recessionary times are a perfect storm for a dependent, and eventually resentful, underclass extending well into a second generation, one that fumes over why things outside are not equal rather than looking within to ensure that they could be.
Who would not wish pristine 19th-century rivers to run all year long? But that same utopian rarely thinks like an adult: “I want water releases into the San Joaquin River all year long and am willing to pay more money at Whole Earth for my produce to subsidize such diversion of irrigation water; I do not wish any more derricks off Santa Barbara, so I choose to drive a Smart car rather than my Lexus SUV. And I want teachers to be able to strike, and receive $100,000 in compensation and benefits, and therefore am willing to close down a rural hospital in Wisconsin or tax the wealthy with full knowledge that many will leave the state. I insist on amnesty and open borders, and will put my children in schools where 50% do not speak English, and live in the barrios to lend my talents where needed to ensure parity for new arrivals. I want cap-and-trade and so believe that the lower middle classes should pay “skyrocketing” energy bills to subsidize such legislation.” And so on.
Finally, the adolescent thinks in a rigid, fossilized fashion in explicating the “unfairness” of it all, unable yet to process new data and adjust conclusions accordingly. So we now hear that the evil corporate/Wall Street nexus is turning us into a Republican-driven Third World — apparently unwilling to see that among the largest contributors of campaign cash were unions, and both Wall Street and international corporations favored Barack Obama in the last election, the first presidential candidate in the history of campaign financing legislation to opt out of the program in order to raise even more “fat cat” money. Just because one is a former Chicago organizer does not mean he cannot be the largest recipient of Goldman Sachs or BP donations in history. Railing against Las Vegas jet-setters does not mean that one cannot prefer Martha’s Vineyard, Vail, or Costa del Sol to Camp David.
We talk about all these “millionaires,” but fail to include a Rahm Emanuel who managed to receive several million for his apparent fiscal and investment “expertise” or the liberal Clintonite insiders who looted Fannie and Freddie in bonuses just before these agencies imploded. The Koch brothers are deemed evil; George Soros and Warren Buffet enlightened billionaires about whose modes of acquisition of riches we must be indifferent. Anything that might upset the predetermined adolescent worldview is simply ignored in “I don’t want to hear all this” teen-aged fashion. The adolescent plays reruns of Al Gore’s mythodramas and simply thinks away the ensuing evidence of fraud and malfeasance that seems so deeply embedded in the climate change industry. The rant and temper tantrum follow in the puerile mode of being so distasteful that someone surely must give in to stop the embarrassing disturbance.
There are lots of issues involved in Wisconsin, in the impending financial and fuel crises, and in the sense of American impotency abroad. Yet a common denominator is a national adolescence, in which we want what we have not earned. We demand the world be the way that it cannot; and we don’t wish to hear “unfair” arguments from “bad” and “mean” people.
©2011 Victor Davis Hanson