|Thomas Nast, 1873, illustration for The Pickwick Papers, via Victorian Web.|
They’re the dangers of elite groupthink, of Beltway power worship, of a cult of presidential action in the service of dubious ideals. They’re the dangers of a recklessness and radicalism that doesn’t recognize itself as either, because it’s convinced that if an idea is mainstream and commonplace among the great and good then it cannot possibly be folly.I'm convinced that if an idea is mainstream and commonplace then "radicalism" may not be exactly the right qualifier. "Recklessness" is another matter.
The column is a full-scale Gish Gallop of accusations against that elite groupthinking great and good population of which Hillary Clinton is a member in superb standing, to the effect that they're responsible for the Iraq War, the 2008 bad-mortgage catastrophe, the euro, and the German policy on Syrian refugees;
which doesn’t even include lesser case studies like our splendid little war in LibyaWhoa, Ross, I think you just included it, you cunning dog, you.
Philosophically I don't even disagree with his main point, I think, if it is what it sounds like, that if you have a political elite that doesn't guarantee you against having them do something stupid and destructive. I read Barbara Tuchman's The March of Folly when Ross was five or six years old. I'll bet it's still a great book (conservatives like Paul Johnson at The New Criterion thought it was dreadfully vulgar and sloppy).
I do disagree on some of the individual cases—for example when he writes,
The Iraq War, which liberals prefer to remember as a conflict conjured by a neoconservative cabal, was actually the work of a bipartisan interventionist consensus, pushed hard by George W. Bush but embraced as well by a large slice of center-left opinion that included Tony Blair and more than half of Senate Democrats.I remember the Iraq War as a conflict conjured by a neoconservative cabal, not because of preference but because that's what I was thinking at the time. I regarded Tony Blair at the time as a slimeball who had already practically destroyed the Labour Party, not as a slice of center-left opinion, and I still do. I regarded the Democratic Senators who voted for the Authorization to Use Military Force of October 2002, including Hillary Clinton and the other potential 2004 presidential candidates (Kerry, Biden, Edwards, Dodd) as dupes of that conjuration: George W. Bush promised them that he had solid evidence of Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and wanted the AUMF only as a negotiating tool to force Hussein to cooperate with UN inspectors, I thought he was lying, and he was, as he subsequently proved by throwing out the UN inspectors himself.
Nor do I think the common European currency was
a terrible idea that only cranks and Little Englanders dared oppose until the Great Recession exposed it as a potentially economy-sinking follythough its implementation over the long term has been badly and perhaps fatally bungled, or that Chancellor Merkel's embrace of up to a million Syrian refugees (which Douthat refers to with Trump-class falsity as Angela Merkel’s grand and reckless open-borders gesture) has delivered her continent to polarization and violence. And of Clinton that
She was for the Iraq War when everyone was for it, against the surge when everyone had given up on Iraq, and then an unchastened liberal hawk again in Libya just a few short years later.She was never "for the Iraq War" any more than any of the other Democrats who foolishly believed George W. Bush's claims that he intended to avoid war, she was right to oppose the surge, and her support for air auxiliaries from France, UK, and US to prevent civilian deaths in Libya was not the stance of an "unreconstructed war hawk" but of a humanitarian who remembered the horror of the U.S. standing aside from the carnage in Bosnia and Rwanda and the satisfaction of doing something about it in Kosovo. Not to insist that it all went right, but right or wrong, her motives are well attested. And by the way Monsignor Douthat thought the Libya action wasn't tough enough long before he thought it was too tough.
She was a Russia dove when the media mocked Mitt Romney for being a Russia hawk; now she’s a Russia hawk along with everyone else in Washington in a moment that might require de-escalation.That is, her time as secretary of state coincided with Dmitry Medvedev's term as president of the Russian Federation and a great deal of diplomatic work could be, and was, undertaken. Since Putin has returned to essential one-man-rule the diplomatic situation has gotten much more complex, and the friendly presentation much less useful (this is the single most irritating thing in Douthat's column for me, the almost total failure to recognize that a situation of any kind existed, then or now).
The Monsignor's question is, though, if you want to take it seriously, what should we do about it? Three weeks before the presidential vote. If you think there's a danger of Hillary Clinton doing irrational things because of her membership in the Washington elite, would it have been any less dangerous if Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz had made it through the primaries? And what should we do now, vote for Dr. Stein?
Has there ever been an election since the victory of slaveholding vulgar aristocrat and party-hater Andrew Jackson in 1832 where the victor didn't subscribe, to one degree or another, to an elite consensus? Is there any way to prevent the danger of a candidate buying into the elite consensus other than by buying into the craziness of a candidate who rejects all the rules? Why has the Monsignor suddenly started asking, at this particular historical moment?
Douthat notes that there's actually far from a lot to worry about:
The good news is that she is not a utopian; she is — or has become, across a long and grinding career — temperamentally pragmatic, self-consciously hardheaded. So she is unlikely to do anything that the cosmopolitan capitals of Europe and America would consider obviously radical or dangerous or dumb.
But in those cases where the cosmopolitan position isn’t necessarily reasonable or safe, in those instances where the Western elite can go half-mad without realizing it....It's only stuff those cosmopolitans would egg her on to we have to fear? You mean just the rootless ones, or the ones with gin, triple sec, and cranberry juice? Ross, I'm afraid you've been spending a little too much time with that alt-right. Your judgment is getting a little unreliable. You're getting a little scary yourself. You're becoming a concern troll who might literally be concerned.