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Works and Days
Occupy Wall Street?
I've been following the Wall Street protests, in New York and elsewhere. I read as well of the Democratic Party's sorta interest in turning the anger of a few into a left-wing Tea-Party-like movement of many.
Against that background, I've also been counting up Barack Obama's excuses (ATM machines are to blame and so are the tsunami, the EU, George W. Bush, the nine-month-old Republican House, the Arab Spring, the D.C. earthquake, and rising oil prices). He's also growing his target list of various insults (everyone and everything from Clarence Thomas, Nancy Reagan, and the Special Olympics to fat-cat bankers, corporate jet-owners, millionaires and billionaires, and "the teabag, anti-government people").
Out of all that chaos, I think there are two constants that explain the Obama frustration and the current outpouring of invective at Wall Street, "them," the affluent, and our capitalist system in general.
So Sorry — It Doesn't Work
On a wider political level, there is a growing realization that today's brand of liberalism is really a form of slow societal suicide. We see red states recovering from recession; blue states are still broke. Greece is a mess; so is the entire anti-democratic, statist, and redistributive EU. Keynesian economics is about as dead as global warming/climate change/climate chaos in the age of Climategate, Al Gore, Inc., and a planet cooling over the last decade.
The old idea of open borders is also over. The notion is discredited that teaching new arrivals multiculturalism and ethnic chauvinism, providing them massive subsidies, and ignoring federal statutes was both more humane and more efficacious than the old melting pot of our youth. Solyndra was the epitaph of the lie of "millions of green jobs." Obama will never utter that now bankrupt phrase again. "Green" means millions of dollars in printed federal money for each job produced, but even far more millions to crony capitalists who hid their malfeasance with hope and change sloganeering.
The Façade Peels Away
Independents are starting to see the end of the latest liberal experiment. Society simply cannot continue paying a half-trillion-dollars to import gas and oil, and hundreds of billions to subsidize inefficient wind and solar, even as known U.S. coal, gas, oil, shale, and tar sands reserves soar — but remain vastly underutilized. The administration's Energy Department (e.g., gas should reach European levels, people cannot be trusted to buy the right light bulbs, California farms will blow away) is now simply the sibling of the EPA.
Raging Against the Machine
Soon even some mainstream Democrats will grasp the lie. Obamism not only does not work; its fiscal, energy, cultural, and foreign policies result in Greek-like stasis and chaos. It hinges on scapegoating those who say it does not work. Its current anger is sort of like the furor directed at those who were either trying to change or depart from the ossified medieval Church, when altruistic doctrine hides penances, exemptions, and vast estates. Stop the Smears begat JournoList which begat AttackWatch.com.
Again, all of the above is why Obama's target and excuse lists grow and the old calls for civility and unity fade. How can a Democratic president, with a Democratic-controlled House and Senate for two years, keep faulting the present mess on either an ex-president who left almost three years ago, or a Republican-controlled House of some nine months tenure?
Junior Has Been Had?
But on a personal level, these more cosmic issues are coming home as well. Many of the current group of protestors down at Wall Street — remember the summer's earlier flash mobbing here and the hoodies in the UK — are unknowingly raging against just this "system" where some have more than they do and will always have more, given the current frozen economy. About 2010, the music stopped and those without chairs were out of luck.
Many are furious that they have or soon will have very expensive degrees, bought at the price of either exorbitant loans or near insolvent parents who paid the $100,000-200,000 for today's BAs. The students cannot rage against the modern corrupt, but ideologically sacrosanct, university. There, diversity czars outnumber French professors. Academic success is calibrated by avoiding introductory undergraduate classes — and all for the "student."
The Old Way
After all, in the old days, faculty taught 6-8 (and more) classes a year. Administrators taught too and were relatively small in number (unlike the 1-1 ratio at the CSU system, the world's largest university). The curriculum was designed to instill inductive thinking. It prepared the student to write well, think, and have a corpus of dates, events, people, and places at his fingertips for reference and elucidation.
In the Belly of the Beast — And?
Politicking was rare even in the 1970s. Well over thirty years ago, I took some 30 courses in Greek and Latin language and literature at UC Santa Cruz, and another 12 PhD seminars at Stanford — all from whom in retrospect I would imagine were mostly hard left. But who knew? Not once in eight years of undergraduate or graduate education did a liberal professor go off topic to rant or, indeed, to mix politics with history or literature or language. There were no points given for politically correct answers. No sermonizing poured forth from the rostrum. There was also simply no time to do so, given the enormity of the assignments. Reading five pages of Thucydides in Greek for each class or understanding the structure of ancient Athenian democracy left no time to blast an aspiring Ronald Reagan. I am sure indoctrination started in the early 1960s, but even in the 1970s it had not completely taken hold.
Relatively Cheap, Really Good
In other words, for much of the 20th century, college was not that exorbitantly expensive (my hardscrabble grandfather farmer sent all three of his daughters to college, two to Stanford, on the meager profits from 100 acres of raisins in the midst of the Depression). Students emerged literate and mostly disinterested and inductive. The most impressive degrees, of course, were not history or English (much less environmental studies). Instead the palm went to engineering, physics, mathematics, and biology. These were the hard sciences and skills that few of us could master. Social sciences were relatively small enclaves. And while science majors got As in their gut GE anthropology, sociology, and psychology courses, the opposite was not true: the latter majors panicked when forced to take a basic physics or physiology class to graduate.
I note in passing that not only were there no black, Latino, gender, green, film, gay, peace, or leisure studies courses, programs, and empires, but also a general impression that no one would wish to pay for such classes that imparted little real knowledge about the inductive method or the necessary referents of literature, history, and science. So many of these classes were therapeutic. Some were downright accusatory: go back through history and as melodrama point out the bad and good guys (based on present-day liberal standards), or study how modern capitalism should be replaced by a more humane model — in environmental, financial, religious, racial, class, and gender terms.
So here is where the last thirty years all led: to too many students who are indebted, poorly educated, and without skills like high-tech engineering, sophisticated medicine, or computer design that the country needs. They are consumed with contemporary furor as the education bubble of nearly a trillion dollars in debt is about to burst. They are mad at the system that they were taught oppresses them, but also at themselves. Who would not be after spending so much money for something of so little value? Nothing is more embarrassing to watch than arrogance coupled with ignorance — and spiced with occasional glibness and the slow realization that they've been had.
It is taboo for the Obama technocracy to consider exploiting the vast natural riches of America. And how can one admit that printing money destroys prosperity? Who can confess that expectations of government subsidy ruin personal initiative? So how, then, can students question the utility of their educations? They don't dare object to the university's manner of operations, or how their loans underwrote the need for a six-figured assistant provost of internal development or associate vice president for diversity awareness — or a vast number of new hip professors who just thirty or forty years ago would not be seen as professors at all.
I think in over twenty years of teaching I received about 5,000 memos warning me about insidious practices of sexism, racism, classism, or other sorts of oppression, what the chair, dean, provost, president was doing about it (usually setting up a watchdog faculty committee) — and not a single one wondering how we could bring rigor to the curriculum and real learning to the students.
The End of the Dream
In sum, there is panic. Obamacare, near-zero interest rates, more environmental and fiscal regulations, government takeovers, bailouts, and stimulus, nearly $5 trillion in debt, $1.6 trillion in annual deficits, vast increases in food stamps and unemployment insurance, and hectoring the private sector — all that and more did not restore prosperity. More likely we ruined a natural recovery — if 9.1% unemployment, anemic GDP growth, ruinous debt, precipitous declines in the standard of living, and the return of the old record misery index are any indication. All Obama in 2012 is left with is the old trifecta of "Bush did it," "they" will cut your Social Security, and a subtle racism fuels all opposition.
There is a deer-in-the-headlights paralysis in all those who believed that you could get a government subsidized $100,000 loan, receive easy As in environmental studies or sociology, buy a prestigious BA certificate, and then enter the lucrative world of the government bureaucracy — teaching, administering, suing, and regulating.
Not Enough Smelts or Pipelines to Go Around
But it did not work that way (there is not room enough for all of us to champion the delta smelt, find insidious racism in the Detroit schools, shut down an oil pipeline, or sue Arizona). Instead, we are left with an energy-poor country sitting on energy riches, a moribund economy with millions in the private sector piling up cash rather than investing or hiring, and cohorts of young, flat-broke, indebted, and politically prepped but poorly schooled students wondering where is the good life and why a Wall Street fixer, or computer nerd, or company man civil engineer makes so much more than they, the anointed, do.
So they rage on — and on and on…