Thursday, September 15, 2011

James Carville Should Get a Grip

I don’t know that James Carville is the most reliable adviser to the Obama White House. Owing to his Clinton connections, he has a professional, and probably a personal, interest in insinuating that the Obamaites are in over their head. But there’s no denying that Carville knows a thing or two about electing Democratic presidents, and he says it’s time for Obama to panic.

I doubt that Carville really thinks that the things he’s telling Obama to do—like firing advisers, getting his story on the economy straight and upholding Democratic values more emphatically—will do much electoral good at this late date. But I can see Carville’s point: if you can see the iceberg from the bridge of the Titanic, the least you can do is rearrange the deck chairs.

Yet I was surprised, and more than a little appalled, by one thing that Carville advises Obama to do. He thinks that Obama’s reelection prospects are getting so dire that it’s time to find someone to indict for causing the financial crisis (my emphasis):
Indict people. There are certain people in American finance who haven't been held responsible for utterly ruining the economic fabric of our country. Demand from the attorney general a clear status of the state of investigation concerning these extraordinary injustices imposed upon the American people. I know Attorney General Eric Holder is a close friend of yours, but if his explanations aren't good, fire him too. Demand answers to why no one has been indicted.”
It’s hard to say what’s worse: that Carville isn’t embarrassed publicly to advise Obama to make the administration of justice into an instrument of electioneering or that Carville embraces the apparently irrebuttable presumption that someone must be criminally responsible for the economic downturn. I’ll set aside the idea that Eric Holder should stage some show trials to take some of the political heat off of Obama because it’s just garden-variety corruption.

The presumption that someone must be morally and criminally culpable for bad economic times is more noteworthy, however, because it’s so intellectually and morally primitive. In an economy in which markets do most of the allocative work (and no private actor is in a position to exert more than a transitory influence on prices), macro-economic states of affairs are the unintended consequence of the interaction of innumerable uncoordinated acts on the part of people acting for their own private purposes. Granted, those purposes are occasionally immoral and criminal inasmuch as the actor intends to victimize other particular people.  But the idea that any private actor could perpetrate "extraordinary injustices . . . upon the American people" and therefore be criminally responsible for “utterly ruining the economic fabric or our country” isn’t just unlikely, it’s empirically, morally and legally unintelligible. 

Carville’s indictments would have a lot more in common with the ancient practice of sacrificing virgins in the midst of a plague than with the administration of criminal justice. But that comparison is unfair to the ancients because they had a better grasp of causation and morality. Say what you will about the wishful hope that the sacrifice would cause the gods to end the plague. At least the people doing the sacrificing were decent and clearheaded enough not to blame the virgins for it.

When Carville tells Obama to panic, I guess he really means it.


Anonymous said...

This is all Obama needs. If he follows Carville's advice, it would be a bit transparent. But even more importantly, can you imagine a president enlisting the services of a modern day J Edgar Hoover to start going after people. That would work real well. First, who is he going to indict? Fannie Mae? Angelo Mozilo? Dodd and Frank?

Dave said...

Your wit is in top form today! The paragraph about the virgins could have come from the pen of Mark Steyn. Cracked me up.

Teddy said...

If you ask me, Obama is the virgin and Carville is the liberal high priest wielding the sword.