Washington: Crackling With Brainy Sacrifice

In a marvelous gesture of ring-kissing, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen takes a look at the various conflict-addled millionaires in the Obama administration, and lectures the nation to start acting more grateful for their noble sacrifice.

In Ronald Reagan's famous formulation, "government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem." This statement, at the very heart of the so-called Reagan Revolution, denigrated government and the people in it. Reagan's statement withdrew John F. Kennedy's invitation to the intellectually gifted to come to Washington and see what they could do for their country. Reagan sent a different message. Government service is for the lame, the cautious. If you really want to do something for your country, shun Washington and make money. It was morning again in America -- whatever that meant.

It is to Barack Obama's immense credit that he has reversed Reagan's reversal. Washington crackles with people on a mission. Brains are once again in vogue, if only because Obama has them in abundance. Not for him the aw-shucks affectation of the previous eight years, when instinct was extolled and ideology trumped analysis. We are in a mess, and one of the reasons is that people who might have noticed or done something about it had been told to stay out of government.

In our scandal-soaked culture, it is de rigueur to denigrate public officials and to search for the inevitable conflict of interest. But here are people, such as [Lawrence] Summers, who have put aside wealth and lavish perks for government service. They have their reasons, sure, but whatever they are, we -- not they -- are the richer for it.

Do you feel richer today, punk?

This whole they're-denigrating-public-servants complaint, a longtime favorite of Bill Maher's, has always struck me as willfully missing at least one important point. A core problem of government ineffectiveness has to do with incentives, and unintended consequences, not necessarily venality and incompetence. The do something mentality of elected officials inevitably leads to crude applications of blunt power, and just as inevitably that power has a tendency to get all mission-creepy, into areas of human existence that no government should really be messing with. And believe it or not, this can happen under Democrats, too.

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  • ||

    I find that sentiment utterly obscene.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    Who is he kidding? I'd like to add to Mr. Welch's point that people want to live and work in "power centers". It probably makes Summers all cheery that people are talking about him every day; that he has a cadre of college-aged sycophants who drink in Adams-Morgan and brag about how they saw Chuck Schumer and "he said hi to me and winked".

    Some people get off on being obsequious little fucks.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    In case it needed to be said, I lived in Washington as a kid and have been back multiple times for extended periods of time, and Washington has the worst culture of any major United States city.

  • ||

    it is de rigueur to denigrate public officials

    Musn't speak poorly of our betters!

  • ||

    I'm with Pro Libertate. I was already Sartrean nausea this morning anyway, but that is extra-sickening.

  • ||

    why no mention of poplawski here? i would have thought he would get some attention here - he seemed pretty ruggedly individualist and vigilant against encroaching govt power, despite the way the msm has demonized him, and the fact that he lived in his mother's basement. what gives?

  • Xeones||

    Shut the fuck up, Dick.

  • ||

    They have their reasons, sure, but whatever they are, we -- not they -- are the richer for it.

    This is so blatantly retarded as to be humorous, if it weren't so destructive. I weap for the future.

  • Conhugeco||

    Plus there is no way half of these guys would be as wealthy as they are without the time spent in "Service" Does anyone think Daschle would have made 5 million bucks without his time spent in generous service?

  • ||

    What an ass clown. I'll never understand how Bush sucking became proof that Reagan/Thatcher were utter failures.

    Also, employees of the state can get bent. I'll never take an unproductive job on stolen money from my friends and family. Never.

  • dhex||

    "They have their reasons, sure, but whatever they are, we -- not they -- are the richer for it. "

    is he for fucking real?

  • ||

    Richard Cohen makes me puke. What a sorry pole smoker.

  • Abdul||

    We are in a mess, and one of the reasons is that people who might have noticed or done something about it had been told to stay out of government.

    Statements like these are the reason I lean libertarian. The whole notion that if we can just get smart enough people elected, all worldly problems will be solved, is hubris that Babylonian tower builders would find laughable. You see it in campaign rhetoric like "Now will be the time that the sea levels begin to recede." Jimmy Carter probably had the highest IQ of any recent US president. Look where that got his administration.

    If Bush's problem was that he dumbed down government (and it's far from clear that this was the fatal flaw of Bush's administration), Obama's problem will be that he believes in the fallacious notion that all the problems of the world just need the world's smartest president to second guess every decision.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    Also, employees of the state can get bent. I'll never take an unproductive job on stolen money from my friends and family. Never.

    Would that be all employees of the state?

  • ||

    What's pathetic is the idea that the problem with unlimited power is only who is wielding it.

    Did Lord Acton stutter?

  • ||

    The sentiment itself is bad enough. What is worse is that they don't even believe it themselves. Dick Chaney gave up being CEO of Haliburton to be VP. I don't hear Cohen talking much about his sacrifice. I guess leaving a multi-million dollar job to go to government is noble except when it is not. Cohen could just save a lot of time and collumn inches and just write "stop picking on people I like". The argument would be shorter, no less persuasive and much less insulting than claiming that we somehow owe Larry Summners the benefit of th doubt because he did us such a big favor by leaving Wall Street.

  • ||

    Brains are once again in vogue, if only because Obama has them in abundance.

    Holy cow.

    I predict Listerine sales will go through the roof.

  • ||

    I suppose its worth noting that Reagan qualified his statement. He didn't mean government is always, everywhere, and at all times the problem. He was considerably more specific. Its hardly shocking that the left still doesn't get Reagan, but the right has sort of forgotten what he was about themselves.

    Still, the idea that: getting people who ostensibly don't like government to run government might not net you the best talent, is not exactly crazy. However, my POV, the damage was not done by incompetent fools but rather by very smart people who knew what they wanted, and who didn't really care about anything or anyone who thought different.

  • ||

    "Brains are once again in vogue, if only because Obama has them in abundance."


    He is real brainy all right. I hear he speaks Austrian fluently as well as Mexican and Brazilian and American.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    Not for him the aw-shucks affectation of the previous eight years, when instinct was extolled and ideology trumped analysis.

    I must have missed the "analysis" that went behind the belief of the current White House that crises are things to be exploited for the expansion of government spending and power.

  • anarch||

    As that ad for an exposé about Chappaquiddick used to say, "Every year or so it's healthy to read something that makes your blood boil."

    Any tips on how to begin to make an inroad with welfare-state liberals?

    I recall one astonishing lunchtime encounter I had with a new genial, intelligent, educated acquaintance, with whom the conversation turned casually to politics. He said something generic about a prevailing issue, in a tone that conveyed an assumption of universal agreement. I responded - innocently, I swear it - with something like, "Yes, I find it odd that so many people are eager to enact legislation before they've determined what exactly government is for." He stared at me as though I'd just transgressed some profound taboo - "Pass the baby intestines, please" - and we politely went on to discuss other matters. I never heard from him again.

    How does one start?

  • robc||

    How does one start?

    First, collect ammo.

  • ||

    Freedom's just another word for 50 different kinds of breakfast cereal. Glad the guv'mint is up early ever morning irrigating the fields.

    I remember Russia when the people with brains were running things.

  • ||

    If he wanted to convince me to support people "serving" in the government, he should have gone with this angle: We need good smart people on the inside so that the public can have insiders warning us when they decide to use Executive Order 11000

    or

    Executive Order 11001

  • Gabe, you workin for the govrn||

    Page Not Found

    We cannot locate the page you're looking for. Please check the address and make sure all letters are lowercased with no spaces. You may also move to a different page by using the links in the menu bar above.

  • ||

    Take out the break tags at the end of the URLs.

  • Taktix®||

    But here are people, such as [Lawrence] Summers, who have put aside wealth and lavish perks for government service.

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!

    HAHAHA!!!

    Oh god, I want to die...

  • ||

    anarch,
    I live in Massachussetts so I have a lot of experience in waking these demtards up.

    You need to appeal to the naive wholesome goodness that IS within many socialist. Work them into a frenzy about unjust wars, a justice system set up to imprison blacks and the military industrial complexes desire to use the illiterate minorities as cannon fodder and force minimum wage workers to pay payroll taxes to General Dynamics.

    Once you have worked them into a frenzy, say innocently "and now I am very afraid that it seems Obama is owned by the same interests, he has INCREASED the 'faith based' funding. he has announced 50k troops will be in Iraq permanently, his appointment of Pro-Iraq war/pro-patriot act Hillary Clinton as secretary of state was approved by neo-cons universally. The
    puzzling admission that theNational Security Advisor takes orders from Kissinger! is really wierd. The bailout was backed by Obama and that is clearly just the theft of trillions by Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan...not much different than the Bush Cheney regime...in fact things seem worse!

  • ||

    sorry, If this was the A-team I'd be Murdoch. hyperlinks fixed.

    Executive Order 11000

    Executive Order 11001

  • Fascitis Necrotizante||

    General tools I've noticed are somewhat effective in evangelizing among the softheaded left.

    1. Promote general skepticism about the government. When people talk about how great some new government program would be, walk them through all the potential negative unintended consequences. People like to seem clued-in and jaded, and even if this doesn't persuade them of a libertarian worldview, it might just lead them to a fashionable cynicism which would at least be an improvement over yeswecan-tardery

    2. Emphasize the extent to which excessive regulations hurt the poor and limit opportunities for entrepreneurial activity. This kind of thing is what eventually moved me rightward.

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    How does one start?

    Well, to be fair, your name is anarch*. He probably thought you were one of those wild-eyed, petard-chucking anarchists.



    *I'm kidding. I'm sure you don't go by anarch in real life...or do you?

  • ||

    Well at least the relvoving door between the profit seeking private sector and the noble selfless bureaucrats nah public sercants nah overlords* in government has been closed by The Chosen One.

    * Much better. Accuracy in commenting is something I strive for.

  • Kreel Sarloo||

    The puzzling admission that the National Security Advisor takes orders from Kissinger!



    I think it was a joke, Gabe.

    Not a very good one, mind you. Especially when one considers how much influence the evil bastard still has.

    Yes, I do believe that in a world controlled by an omnipotent just and merciful God, Henry Kissinger would be serving out a prison sentence from which he would never be released alive instead collecting gazillions of dollars from the people he "advises." But since he's not, I remain an agnostic.

    But no, I don't believe he still the universe through the CFR.

  • Kreel Sarloo||

    But no, I don't believe he still controls the universe through the CFR.

  • T||

    Executive Order 11000

    Executive Order 11001


    Executive Orders 11000 and 11001. Signed February 16, 1962.

    Revoked by EO 11490, October 28, 1969.

    EO 11490, revoked by EO 12656, November 18, 1988.

    EO 12656, amended by EO 13074, February 9, 1998; EO 13228, October 8, 2001; EO 13286, February 28, 2003



    So, I'm just not going to worry about a 47 year old revoked executive order. Find the text of 12656, as amended, and get back to me on whether or not I should be paranoid, thanks.

  • ||

    T,
    You must be one of the insiders who is going to watch this and let us know if anything changes. Thanks for your public service.

  • ||

    Competence in government is one thing. A philosophical stance on how "big" government should be is another. I'm sure we can all agree that it's better to have competent people in government than not.

    Just because Reagan gave lip service to smaller government doesn't mean it was anything more than lip service. Republicans get way too much credit for merely saying the right things rather than doing anything to prove they believe in the principles.

    This article's argument seems to amount to: those libruls are too smart for their own good. They might overreach.

    Well that sounds better than having idiots and zealots in charge, while still overreaching.

  • ||

    those libruls are too smart for their own good.

    That is definitely *not* what I believe.

  • ||

    It amazes me how people confuse intelligence with wisdom. You want the wisest leader not necessarily the smartest one. Issac Newton was probably the most intelligent man who has ever lived. But, the man had little understanding of human relations and was generally petty and nasty to everyone around him. Newton, for all of his epic intelligence is the last person you should want anywhere near a position of authority. History is replete with fabulously intelligent people who did immense damage. Just because you are smart, doesn't mean you understand how the world actually works or have any business in a position of authority.

  • ||

    Complete this sentence:

    Competence in government is one thing.

    Incompetence in government is a sure thing

  • ||

    I think the breadth and scope of liberal overreach is what's frightening. The right, for all its myriad faults, usually has a narrower scope of overreach. Though Bush and the last GOP-dominated Congress tried to change that.

    Without even the rhetorical protection of thinking that the economy shouldn't be controlled by government and that limited government is a goal in and of itself, the current iteration of the Democratic Party is supremely dangerous to our future. Of course, with either party in charge, the expansion of federal power seems to be a foregone conclusion.

    I certainly don't see the liberal worldview as intellectually sound or very concerned with reality. In fact, the whole idea that the left is somehow more intelligent than the right is laughable. You have to be seriously deficient in intelligence or hopelessly dominated by emotional biases to have much faith or lend much support to either party or doctrine.

  • BPC||

    "But here are people, such as [Lawrence] Summers, who have put aside wealth and lavish perks for government service. They have their reasons, sure, but whatever they are, we -- not they -- are the richer for it."

    Yup, old Larry sure has sacrificed for the good of the country.

    http://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2009/04/05/business/econwatch/entry4920261.shtml

  • ||

    I'm sure we can all agree that it's better to have competent people in government than not.

    Uhh...no. "Competent" people can do far more damage. What most of us here can agree on is that limiting the ability of the people in government to do stuff is what's going to be better. Then "competence" is much less of an issue.

  • Naga Sadow as Big Al ||

    Kiss the rings, bitch!

  • ||

    Probably my biggest frustration as a libertarian is how people refuse to see that narrowly defining the structure of government is the best way to protect us from tyranny, not wishing that the next emperor will be better than this one or with the "correct" party.

    A great system is one where Caligula could be elected president, and it wouldn't affect our liberties one iota, because he'd lack the power to do anything awful.

  • ||

    "I'm sure we can all agree that it's better to have competent people in government than not."

    The great German general Von Manstein said there were four kinds of officers

    Smart and hard working who were good for staff work

    Smart and lazy who were good for management and strategic thinking

    Dumb and lazy who because they were lazy didn't do much damage and could fill low jobs

    Dumb and hardworking who are because of their stupidity and hard work incredibly damaging to an organization and must be ruthlessly eliminated.

    I think BO and most of his earnest liberal followers fall into the 4th group. They are hard working and earnest but are so in pursuit of a horribly mistaken cause and ideology.

  • ||

    They have their reasons, sure, but whatever they are, we -- not they -- are the richer for it.

    Odd, then, that nobody ever seems to leave a politically-appointed office worse off than they were before.

    I believe, Mr. Cohen, that in fact they, not we, are the richer for their service.

  • Old Lace||

    Any tips on how to begin to make an inroad with welfare-state liberals?

    Arsenic might be a good start.

  • ||

    "I'm sure we can all agree that it's better to have competent people in government than not."

    Replace the word "people" with "Caligulas" and you will see that not many here agree with you.

    Judging by your statements it seems that you think Americans are far too educated and intelligent to ever elect anyone as evil as Caligula?

    If so, then please tell me more about how smart and politically sophisticated the populace of this country has gotten. Can you at least admit that our worries have some validity. Hitler came to power in a democracy. Are you one of those who believes the German DNA is inferior to the American DNA in terms of our ability to pick benevolent leaders?

  • bubba||

    It should not be a surprise that Government employees are selected for a belief that Government intervention is important.

    Who is going to dedicate the effort to getting elected/appointed to an office that they don't think should be really, really busy?

  • Naga Sadow||

    Pro Lib,

    I see we are forgetting Lord Humungous. You saw his platform yesterday. Do you really think silly things like constitutional limits would stop him? I think not.

  • ||

    This really is the best part:

    "Not for him the aw-shucks affectation of the previous eight years, when instinct was extolled and ideology trumped analysis."

    Apart from the contradiction in this statement (Which one was it that ruled the past eight years, instinct or ideology?), which particular rigid ideology did the Bush administration adhere to, that is now being swept away by the refreshing, ideology-free analysis of the Obama administration? Points will be deducted for using "neocon".

  • anarch||

    don't go by anarch in real life...or do you?



    Professor of Economics delivers long, abstruse lecture, at the end of which he takes questions from the audience.

    Student: "Professor, that was ingenious, but would you tell us what it has to do with reality?"

    Professor: "Ah, reality. Reality is a special case."

    Good tip, Gabe, thanks. Probably better than by torpedo approach.

  • anarch||

    by s/b my

  • ||

    Washington crackles with people on a mission.

    Why is this feel to be supreme antonym of "comforting news"?

  • Taktix®||

    Judging by your statements it seems that you think Americans are far too educated and intelligent to ever elect anyone as evil as Caligula?

    IIRC, Caligula was pretty good when he first started, but became terrible after getting some illness or having a nervous breakdown or something.

    Point being, elected officials are like a box of shit-filled chocolates...

  • Taktix®||

    Who is going to dedicate the effort to getting elected/appointed to an office that they don't think should be really, really busy?

    *raises hand*

  • ||

    The right, for all its myriad faults, usually has a narrower scope of overreach. Though Bush and the last GOP-dominated Congress tried to change that.

    One thing we have to remember:
    Any time someone on the left tries to denigrate small-government conservatism and then uses Bush as proof that it doesn't work needs to be stopped in his
    or her tracks with the following scream: BUSH WAS NOT A SMALL GOVERNMENT CONSERVATIVE!!

    Followed by listing all the big-government actions he took:

    1) Nation building in Iraq and Afghanistan (liberals would have meerly replaced Iraq with Sudan)
    2) Medicare prescription drugs
    3) No Child Left Behind
    4) Steel tariffs
    5) Stimulus 2007
    6) Bailout 2008
    7) Bailing out GM/Chrysler
    8) Farm subsidies
    etc.

    Bush ran as a "compassionate" conservative which turned out to be code for big-government liberal who cuts taxes, but raises spending.

  • robc||

    John,

    Newton was elected to parliament.

  • Libertarians and either/or fal||

    It's nice to see that Libertarians are still talking, and talking, and talking. Oh, and mislabeling arguments, in order to have some kind of target to shoot out.

    Them snazzy liberals might call it "projecting," but I just call it having nowhere left to go.

    "Who is going to dedicate the effort to getting elected/appointed to an office that they don't think should be really, really busy?

    *raises hand*"

    Which is exactly why ranting online is the only thing that Libertarians will ever actually accomplish.

    "Bush as proof that it doesn't work needs to be stopped in his or her tracks with the following scream: BUSH WAS NOT A SMALL GOVERNMENT CONSERVATIVE!!"

    Yeah, and everyone's been doing Communism wrong as well. The irony is lost on you.

    Come on ladies, you ooze disaffection like Ayn Rand oozed self-delusion. Or is it the other way around?

    I will say this, you're the most entertaining group of shiftless ideologues that I have ever come across. You're delightful antagonists when you're actually saying something, and a hoot to pick apart when you're in bitter housewife mode (most of the time).

  • T||

    *raises hand*

    I'll vote for you. But then again, I vote for all kinds of deranged lunatics who don't get elected.

  • robc||

    T,

    Much better than voting for deranged lunatics who do get elected.

  • ||

    Gosh, the lust for power over others just can't contain itself, can it?

  • ||

    I will say this, you're the most entertaining group of shiftless ideologues that I have ever come across.

    Awesome. Drink?

  • Cool Cal||

    Hey Matt,

    Why don't you go on Bill Maher's show. I'd love to see that. Really, it would be nice to see someone on the opposition who isn't a boorish, inarticulate hack - maybe give Billy boy a real challenge for once.

  • ||

    Drink? Hell yeah. In fact, have two drinks, you shiftless, yet entertaining, ideologue.

  • ||

    John raised agood point at 9:53am.

    The Bush Administration was full of people who gave up cushy jobs to "serve". Cheney (as noted), Paul O'Neil, Rumsfeld, Hank Paulson and plenty at the Asst and Dep Sec level too.

    What seems to have soared right over Richard Cohen's head is that every administration is filled to the brim with selfless servants of the public interest. And every one of them is convinced that the public interest and the interests of him and his friends are identical.

    And in so thinking they are merely showing their humanity not their venality.

  • Taktix®||

    Really, it would be nice to see someone on the opposition who isn't a boorish, inarticulate hack...

    The only non-liberals Bill Maher has on his show are boorish, inarticulate hacks. That probably explains his "friendship" with Ann Coulter.

    I did enjoy Religiolous, however...

  • ||

    Newton was elected to parliament.

    He also was Warden of the Royal Mint. An important post back in the day.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "Reagan's statement withdrew John F. Kennedy's invitation to the intellectually gifted to come to Washington and see what they could do for their country."

    Intellectually gifted, eh?

    Let's see some proof of that.

  • alan||

    In case no one noticed, 'conserved observer' is back. You can tell by the tone. Anyone miss that?

    Quite an anachronistic one now, but you certainly recall it. The piss and vinegar of the liberal hacks validated in their beliefs with one successful election cycle. That obnoxious tone that was all too common between Nov '08 and Jan '09, but now strangely silent.

    It is as if CO took a nap right after Christmas and just woke up not realizing what everyone else realizes, the Democrats have royally fucked themselves over with Obama.

    What a naive little shit.

  • ||

    Rumpledumbass?

  • JB||

    Once Obama fully runs this country into the ground, it will be open season on fucks like Cohen.

    And we know that little bitch doesn't have a gun.

  • ||

    The only silver lining I see in the Obamanation, is that liberalism will be so thoroughly discredited that it will take a century to recover. On the other hand, FDR buggered the economy for over a decade and wound up being our national saint.

  • ||

    Just what we need, another "Brain Trust" to stretch this depression out another decade or two.

  • Cool Cal||

    I'd also like to say that the idea that stating "government is the problem" is equivocal to saying, "government should be run by doddering boobs" is an intellectually dishonest misrepresentation. He is conflating two totally separate arguments. Reagan had plenty of bright minds in his orbit, and valued experts - just not the kind men like Cohen happen to agree with. It's absurd to imply a leap from smaller government and free market enterprise to fetishising stupidity in public servants (and by Cohen's insane implication, everyone else). Apparently, "Brains are once again in vogue", Cohen thinks that idiocy was prized as an asset during the Reagan years. So apparently, Cohen believes that a prerequisite for running a successful business is to be a dolt. What a douche.

  • ||

    Apparently, "Brains are once again in vogue", Cohen thinks that idiocy was prized as an asset during the Reagan years.

    Actually, I think Cohen commits the common fallacy of believing that intelligence = agrees with me.

  • anarch||

    see that Libertarians are still talking, and talking, and talking.



    What other activity is expected to be in evidence on a blog?

    ranting online is the only thing that Libertarians will ever actually accomplish.



    'Tis many a true word slips out from betwixt false teeth:


    The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas. Not, indeed, immediately, but after a certain interval; for in the field of economic and political philosophy there are not many who are influenced by new theories after they are twenty-five or thirty years of age, so that the ideas which civil servants and politicians and even agitators apply to current events are not likely to be the newest. But soon or late, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil.



    ~ John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) General Theory of Employment (1936; 1947 ed.) ch. 24

  • Taktix®||

    On the other hand, FDR buggered the economy for over a decade and wound up being our national saint.

    He was still a philandering cripple. There, I said it...

  • ||

    Sometimes even the public servant's spouse must give up a lucrative job in order to serve. This particular woman gave up a $300,000 per year no-show job when her husband choose to serve his country. Truly inspirational!

  • ||

    One more time, with linky fixed...

    Sometimes even the public servant's spouse must give up a lucrative job in order to serve. This particular woman gave up a $300,000 per year no-show job when her husband choose to serve his country. Truly inspirational!

  • Liberty NE||

    The only smart thing about getting a government job is that it pays better and demands less of people. (US Marines excluded)

    If bureaucrats had any decency, drive, and/or courage, they would leave government for the private sector.

  • ||

    If bureaucrats had any decency, drive, and/or courage, they would leave government for the private sector.

    Many of them would starve, too. :-)

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