September 2009

Strakon Lights Up

In praise of Larry O'Donnell

(Reposted as a column on July 16, 2014, from the
"Stop and think" archive for 2009; slightly revised.)


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On May 15 my sometimes-embarrassing addiction to MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program paid rich rewards.

The eponymous host of the show is Republican ex-Congressman Joe Scarborough, a wisecracking, chaotic-minded bully who describes himself, somewhat confusingly, as both a Burkean conservative and a libertarian conservative. I have to say one good thing about him: he lets people appear on the program who disagree with him, and disagree in a variety of directions. As a result, "Morning Joe" is part of the small fraction of MSNBC's news and commentary programming that's not necessarily leftist all the time. Pat Buchanan frequently sits in as a member of the panel, and small-government partisans such as Tucker Carlson, Peter Schiff, and Dr. Ron Paul occasionally appear as guests. The usual totalitarians and corruptionists of leviathan are interviewed, of course, as well as outright left-wing ideologues; but illuminating sparks fly often enough to keep me interested.

So it was on May 15, when left-wing operative Lawrence O'Donnell, an in-studio guest, failed to play the fancy games of evasion that Reds usually play and bullied Scarborough back. Their stinging exchange came fifteen or twenty minutes after a remote interview of Dr. Paul.

O'Donnell to Scarborough: "All you conservatives are, are more-moderate socialists. Not one of you, not one Republican has ever introduced a bill to repeal Medicare, to repeal Social Security, or to abolish the Department of Education. None of you mean it. All you want to do is tinker with the socialism the way the Democrats do. You just want to spend a little less on it."

O'Donnell was wrong on the facts here, allowing Scarborough to protest that in 1995 he introduced a bill to "get rid of the federal education bureaucracy" that attracted 175 co-sponsors and made its way into the budget resolution.

Now, lacking an item veto, President Clinton of course vetoed the budget when it hit his desk, leading to one of those government "shutdowns" that used to occur every whip-stitch in those days ... Oh. Don't remember that particular one? Of course it didn't happen. What did happen, according to the New York Times, was that Scarborough's bill failed even to make it out of the House, which at the time was controlled by Republicans: "The House majority leader, Dick Armey of Texas, who scorns the department as an example of 'trickle-down incompetence,' acknowledged last week that he could not muster the votes this session to pass either of two bills to abolish the department."

By the way, Scarborough's bill would have preserved and transferred to another ministry one of the worst statist enormities ever invented, one that has lured a large proportion of young Americans into further dependence on leviathan and the System at large: the government student-loan program. Scarborough's memory may be a little foggy, but I'm easy. I'll award him half a point on Fed Ed. With respect to Social Security and Medicare, though, Scarborough could only tell O'Donnell, "That's part of the social contract at this point."

O'Donnell: "Oh, social contract. Socialism contract. You guys like socialism as much as the Democrats. C'mon!"

That set Scarborough all a-burble about Edmund Burke and the need to preserve "the social order."

O'Donnell was relentless: "When socialism wins, you surrender. Like when socialism wins in the '30s and in the '60s, you surrender and never try to dismantle it."

Scarborough replied that getting rid of Social Security and Medicare would cause "social unrest."

O'Donnell observed that Ron Paul would get rid of them.

Scarborough replied, "He's not a Burkean conservative."

I doubt I've ever seen the bankruptcy of conservatism so vividly and definitively exposed on mainstream TV — even by a libertarian, let alone a leftist!

Remarkably, O'Donnell — whom Scarborough often "genially" zings as "Crazy Larry" — reappeared on the program a few weeks later to make the same extremely non-crazy points about conservatives.

We don't have to insist that Edmund Burke was sincere in his early anarchist work, Vindication of Natural Society, (1756) to wonder whether he could possibly have favored — at any point in his career — the kind of "social order" that the American leviathan has given us.

Leviathan, as I and many other writers have pointed out, creates not social order or social peace but social disorder and social war. Every time it thrusts its bloody pincers into another area of social life, it heightens social conflict. It is with respect to "public" libraries, including "public" school libraries, that we see ferocious political struggles over what books should be included. It is with respect to "public" schools that we see ferocious political struggles over curricula, student dress, busing, and the medicalization of misbehavior. It is with respect to "public" parks and the "public" square that we see ferocious political struggles over what symbols are to be displayed and what demonstrations of popular discontent are to be allowed. It is with respect to "public" roads that we see ferocious political struggles over helmet-wearing, child-safety cocoons, speed limits, and all the rest. If such matters were left to free society, whose material expression is the free market, such conflicts could never arise. People would be left — what's that obscure formulation? Oh yes: Free to choose.

Leviathan sets people at each other's throat, inducing them to abandon peaceful coexistence in society and instead struggle to capture the violence of the state to work their will or at least defend themselves, desperately, against the enforced will of others. Leviathan's statization of health care and old-age pensions — the issues at hand here — has set the generations against each other, igniting inter-generational resentment, fear, and conflict. As it worsens, and the white demographic collapse continues, that conflict will come to include a major racial component as well; but we cannot expect Scarborough to recognize that, either, since he believes "we" (i.e., whites) are moving toward a "color-blind" society.

As for Scarborough's notional "social contract," I protest that no one ever asked me to sign such a contract; and I wager the same goes for you. Moreover, I point out that the state does not draw and propose social contracts, or any valid contracts for that matter; the state can only issue statish edicts and intimidations. It is accurate to consider the state a social institution only insofar as it is accurate to consider cancer a bodily tissue.

Lawrence O'Donnell is no partisan of freedom, and in most respects we may fairly regard him as our enemy; but he is a spark-striker, especially in contrast to soggy Big Government conservatives such as Scarborough. O'Donnell inhabits that unusual and narrow category of left-wingers who are worth listening to. Ω

September 2009

Published in 2009, 2014 by WTM Enterprises.

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