The Desiccator – 2017

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Over at National Review, conservative Peter Spiliakos writes in reply to conservative Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin on Scott Walker’s campaign. (Rubin thinks Walker has gone too far to the right, but Spiliakos thinks that Walker – and many Republicans leaders – have lost touch with huge parts of their own electorate.)

For Rubin the matter is one of ideology; for Spiliakos it’s one of unfamiliarity with one’s own party.

Spiliakos’s observations, however, are applicable apart from the Walker campaign, and apart from GOP politics. They’re more broadly interesting than as an intra-party discussion. (I’m a libertarian, and find his remarks useful beyond major-party politics to which I have, and owe, no allegiance.)

Spiliakos contends that

If it was just a Scott Walker problem, it wouldn’t matter. Walker is just one politician. The big problem is the social gulf between establishment Republican politicians and large sections of the right-leaning electorate is so big that the politicians can’t even imagine what many of their voters are thinking.

A competent and honest political class would try to find the common ground, and reach a compromise between the party’s factions, but the current Republican leadership seems to take little interest in the opinions of anyone outside the employer interests and consultant/lobbyist/campaign aide/congressional staffer apparatchiks.

Here’s Spiliakos on why this happens:

I think the problem is more social. With the decline of civic institutions among people in the lower half of the income distribution, the social power of groups that are well organized tends to increase. The influence of the donor class doesn’t just come from the checks. It comes from the social interactions at local Chamber of Commerce events where an aspiring politician gives a speech and then listens to local business owners talk about how they have trouble finding willing workers at a good price (to the employer.) The unorganized majority of Americans who disagree with this view don’t get to invite Walker to meetings, because they don’t have meetings.

I’ve no doubt – none at all – that there is a wide gap between self-described elites and ordinary people. Locally, however, I don’t think the biggest problems are ones of personal unfamiliarity. (After all, it’s not as though I am describing myself as a tribune of the people. There are already too many people in town who claim to speak on behalf of all the town; this is a site of individual, independent commentary.)

Our local problem isn’t that elites don’t speak to ordinary people – it’s that local elites, by an over-reliance on an echo chamber of their own kind – lack the clear reasoning of both ordinary people locally and competitive Americans elsewhere. They’re not unfamiliar with ordinary people; they’re too familiar (and too satisfied with) their own thinking.

They see ordinary people each day, but these local elites falsely assume that they have better ideas, and better powers of reasoning, than ordinary people.

Prospective town squires may arrive on our scene educated and reasonable, but needlessly living too much within a small fraction of all society, and scampering to its neurotic demands, leaves reasonable people addled, leaves educated people forgetful and ignorant.

Even the finest, most capable people will wither and atrophy in that desiccator.

Most people are sharp and capable; even the sharpest and most capable degrade their abilities when confined to a small, closed chamber.

After a while, the commonplace reasoning of people from across this continent starts to look to a cosseted few like magic, or an alien teaching unfairly imposed.

On that contrary, that commonplace reasoning – shared equally by all races & ethnic groups – is the language of vast millions from ocean to ocean, who yet remain energetic, creative, capable residents of the most advanced civilization in human history.

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