Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Tough Love

Disclaimer: When I wrote this yesterday afternoon, I thought it was terrific.  But maybe it was just the margaritas talking, as I’m not so sure of this now.  But screw-it.  I just rewrote a bunch of it and feel like posting it anyway.  It’s mostly right, but…

Carpetbagger writes about the “Good cop, bad cop” routine the Bush Admin is supposedly playing with Pakistan; where Cheney is finally willing to threaten Pakistan, using the Democratic Congress as a cudgel.  Carpetbagger and others have expressed dismay that the Cheney’s have finally decided to do something about Pakistan’s pro-terror tolerance.

But the Bush Admin is using the same approach conservatives have always used for foreign policy: Support your “allies” and undermine your “foes”.  And it doesn’t matter if the support is merited, or if the foes could be converted to allies; they support the people they think are on their team.  For them, it’s not about who you are or what you do; it’s about who you know.  And you need to know them.  

But this isn’t just their foreign policy; it’s how they do everything.  For foreign policy, they’ll support anti-democratic dictators and middle-east monarchs who help foment anti-Americanism; while constantly haranguing Iran, even when the Mullahs are catching our bad guys for us and offering to make nice.  And domestically, they’ll endlessly subsidize corporate billionaires while trying to squeeze any benefit out of the poorest worker.  

But despite cheap arguments to the contrary, this isn’t about making Americans work harder or encouraging investments.  Indeed, their policies might undermine incentives for either and damage America’s economy; they don’t care.  Nor is this necessarily about helping the people who invest in their political campaigns; though that’s getting closer to the truth.  

It’s really just about helping the people on their team.  It’s about networking.  And they’ve got an ingrained belief that it’s always best to help the people in your network, simply because they’re in-network.  These people were born as part of a club and have been trained since birth that as long as they remain loyal to the club, the club will be loyal to them.  And needless to say, there is no point in having a club if you’re willing to give the same benefits to everyone; which is why conservatives are inherently exclusivists.  Whether they’re silver-spooned Yankees or dirt farmers in Alabama; they’ve been taught the importance of their respective teams.

And for as much as that system may work for them, they still haven’t figured out that many of the people on their international “team” really aren’t on the team at all.  They’re really only in it for their own self-benefit, or they have their own team to worry about.  And while they’re happy to take our money, they won’t take that as an automatic reason to help us.  Yet this has been a guiding principle for America for decades.  That we continue to shell-out support for countries who say nice things to us, without bothering to use it as a carrot to influence behavior.

And that’s just not something that conservatives understand: That human behavior can be altered.  For them, successful people will always be successful.  Lazy people will always be lazy.  Terrorists will always terrorize.  Enemies will always be enemies.  And friends will always be there for you.  Everyone is what they are from birth, and deserves whatever it is that happens to them.  To them, people are born on third-base for a reason.  

They support their friends so that their success proves that they belonged on the team.  And equally, they use economic sanctions to ensure that their foes will fail.  None of this is to provide incentives or disincentives to behavior.  It’s simply to reconfirm that their judgment had been correct.  And even incompetence and disobedience isn’t enough to get you punished.  Nothing less than a complete betrayal of the team can get you that.  And conversely, the only way to get on the team is to either be accepted as a legacy or, if they really want you on the team, to pledge complete obedience to them.  But beyond that, you’re always an outsider.  That’s the way things always were, and how they always will be.

And so there’s no reason to bother building incentives into the system, because people are going to do what they were already going to do.  And they’re so convinced of this that they never bother checking to see if any of this is true.  After all, how could somebody have gotten on the team if they weren’t loyal to it?   And that’s why, for as much as conservatives talk about “tough love”, they just mean to…well screw it.  I had an idea for a good ending, and I liked the “tough love” theme, but it seems a little late to be pulling that out of my ass.  So imagine I had a good ending for this that somehow incorporated the title of the post.  It seems pretty obvious to me, but I’m tired of looking at this post.

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