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Rex quondam et fututor

By Owen Paine on Thursday January 28, 2010 03:07 PM

I have spent a not inconsiderable hunk of my time on a self-appointed mission to scold the ever more obviously benighted creatures of light over at Doc Thoma's comment cages.

Recently one of that site's leading statesmen pasted up this thoughtful reply to a footloose series of run-and-gun jobs by yours truly on... the Bill Clinton legacy. I thought you all might get a bit of a laff over it:

Get a grip, Paine.

Clinton was, among other things, an earnest policy wonk. There's a lot to be said for technocratic competence.

It doesn't mean that Clinton was, ever, anywhere near my heart's desire, in policy preference terms. My nostalgia for Clinton is not based on forgetting that I thought him too conservative at the time. My nostalgia is for a time, when leading politicians still thought policy mattered, that the consequences of policy mattered.

Republicans, our feckless Media, and dishwater Dems have... dumb(ed) our politics down to the point, where we don't even realize that consequences are not being considered.

... Few uses of the past are ever entirely honest -- every one is highly selective, by necessity as well as convenience.

Clinton actually did constrain the growth in Defense spending, and realized something of a peace dividend. Clinton actually did shift the tax burden upscale a bit -- not much, but some. Clinton actually did reduce an irresponsible budget deficit.

I don't want to get bogged down in rehearsing whether he should have tried to stop the conservative stampede instead of just turning it a few, ultimately inconsequential degrees. (That's what I thought at the time; now, that doesn't matter to me.) Probably he couldn't have, and probably he had no desire to do anymore than he did -- again, irrelevant to my concerns now.

It disturbs me that there is now so little reasoning about policy consequences in our politics and political discourse.

... out of touch with basic principles of right reason about policy. We fall very fast into the ditch of counterfactuals. We're praising the Great Man for an admirable performance one moment, and claiming he had no choice in the next, without even noticing that, unless he had choices, he cannot be credited with performing well, and, if he did have choices, and those choices had consequences, we might want to examine those choice and their consequences -- assuming, of course, that the Great Man decides to release the relevant information before 2018.

For me, touching Clinton is all about remembering a time, when we were not all completely insane.

Someone could weigh military and political interventions in a chaotic foreign country, with some kind of actual strategic purpose, a sense of proportion, and with a concern for practical questions, like minimizing the number of U.S. soldiers killed, as well as a concern with consequences in a complex situation.

I think about the care, and reason and anxiety that went into the intervention in Kosovo, and I compare it to Obama and Afganistan or Bush in Iraq and I just despair. The most basic markers of rational policy-making -- ex: proportion -- are gone, completely absent.

I am not interested in rehearsing arguments about whether he intervened too late to save thousands, or whether the bombing of Belgrade was humane, etc. There were many things I didn't like about the policy, in detail, at the time. I don't necessarily mean to endorse it, now. But, costs and consequences and national strategic objectives were actually being considered, weighed, resolved where in conflict, means appropriate to ends, sought, etc.

Nothing like that is apparent in discussion of the continuing war in Afganistan. We haven't advanced beyond the point at which Bush was declaring that our objective in Iraq was success.

Clinton was too DLC for my tastes, to be sure. But, that's not the point.

Splendid in many ways, don't you agree?

Comments (9)


Second link gets me to a blank page. Was there supposed to be a picture or a personal profile?


"For me, touching Clinton is all about remembering a time, when we were not all completely insane." ... pause!

"I think about the care, and reason and anxiety that went into the intervention in Kosovo"

that's the keeper right there.

as rich and textured as I find BW's apologia, I much prefer the unhinged pwog-rage of roger. now there's a piece of work

Clinton was, among other things, an earnest policy wonk. There's a lot to be said for technocratic competence.

There's also a lot to be said for drawing & quartering, flaying, stretching racks, iron maidens, death by 1000 blows, and other torture techniques. We can say many, many words about each of them. We can say many, many words about how the respective techniques compare to the other available techniques.

We can say so very much that our brains tire of composition.

And still that leaves no moral sanction for torture.

As to technocratic competence, it seems to be something that only bit-players, pine-riders, and e-pundits find worthwhile. I spent plenty of time in bureaucracy, and what it needs is not competence, but rather REMAKING.

The Clintons of the world -- much like Rachel Maddow -- are exalted because of their CV, not because of their actual skills. That's what meritocracy is about -- rewarding Ivy Leaguers (et cetera) at the expense of everyone.

But I'm not surprised. Any time "economists" talk, they tend to avoid the main subject (capitalism sucks!) and get into arguing over the useless details of irrelevancies. Clinton was very good at focusing the nation on irrelevancies. Say, whose cum is that on Lewinsky's dress anyway?

I never realized how good Clinton looks in underwear until now.


Link fixed.

When I see the word "policy" on a blog, I reach for my revolver.

Boy howdy, but isn't that some of the most transplendent twisted tap-dancing triangulation I've ever seen. I could almost hear "Tea For Two" playing in the background: "Yeah, I know, Clinton was violent, craven scum, but he was such an awesome wonk, and so competent, and... oh, jeez, and I just gotta' love the big lug! (sighs)"...that's pretty much all of it, right?

I wouldn't be surprised if whoever wrote this was one of those guys who was so flexible that he could bend around and suck his own dick. In a purely rhetorical sense, of course.

D'ohhh, damn. Just now got the link to open. I didn't realize at first glance that it was frickin' Krugman.

Wow, guess you learn something every day, huh? I never would've known that Paul Krugman could suck his own dick.

In a purely rhetorical sense. of course.

I never would've known that Paul Krugman could suck his own dick.
It's what economists do, Mike.

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