Setting my preferences….

The first thing you do when you get a new gadget — a computer, a camera, a smartphone — is you go through it, and you set your preferences. You set it up the way you like.

On Facebook, on Twitter, it’s all about you — your photos, your friends, information the way you like it. Hundreds of millions of users, all uploading and linking and connecting data, somehow get sorted right and served by these really popular services. And don’t get me started on YouTube.

My bank lets me customize my user page. I’ve tuned gmail and .mac to sort out the junk. Amazon knows what I like and makes often useful suggestions. It also keeps track of my most used addresses, which makes gift-giving simple. Ricochet lets you set up a profile and follow folks you like. Pandora listens to the kinds of music you like, then delivers music that, amazingly, fits your taste.

One definition of a “modern” product, it seems to me, is how personal and customizable it is.

So what’s been bugging me lately, when I think about the Obama administration, is how old it seems. How elderly and behind the times. Each policy and initiative seems like a page from the lost Mondale Administration: giant, behemoth one-size-fits-all health care; labor union giveaways; student loan power grabs — it all seems so yesterday. Which is weird, of course, because we’ve been told over and over again by journalists and pundits (who themselves seem old, used up, irrelevant, and tired) that this is a young! bright! modern! administration.

So why does it seem so behind the times? So corpulent? Why does every policy prescription read like something from the 1970′s?

I’m old enough to remember an old man running for president (Reagan) who turned to a younger man who was president at the time (Carter) and killing him in a debate with this line: “There you go again.” Because it captured the tired, rote, big-government, top-down, one-way thinking of the left, circa 1980.

And now, circa 2010.

Which may be why a lot of politicians, Republican and Democrat, are nervous about November 2010, and really nervous about November 2012. Because that’s when the people set their preferences.

  1. Duane Oyen

    So why does it seem so behind the times? So corpulent? Why does every policy prescription read like something from the 1970′s?

    Perhaps because the medium has changed, but the real message and goal has not? You describe means, not ends. If Marxism, Fabianism, collectivism, and corporatism are the eternal objective of the elite technocratic centralizers who will gather in all of the society’s output and then dispense it to us worker ants out of their benevolent will – and proportionately with either our obsequious entreaties or our donations to the re-election fund.

    Twitter, Web 2.0, and PayPal- hip new fast-response ways to run Tammany or the Chicago Machine!

  2. Daniel Frank

    Having worked in some very large companies, I’ve always doubted the assertion that businesses are inherently more efficient than government, or that businesses respond creatively to competitive pressure. Business is simply more efficient in the aggregate than government because it is not immortal. Absent government patronage, bad businesses die or are forced into unprofitable niches by newer, more nimble entrants who stumble on new processes or better insights into consumer needs.

    So government is just like the old AT&T: “We don’t care — we don’t have to.” But the old, lumbering AT&T was torn apart by new competitors once deregulation removed its protected status. No such luck with our Republic. It is as stupid and ignorant as any large business, but we cannot cheer on its collapse, which would be a catastrophe for the entire world. If the states were not so enfeebled, we might look to that quarter for renewal, but saddled with unfunded mandates, and with their prerogatives eviscerated by feckless Supreme Court jurisprudence, they can offer little more than symbolic defiance.

    I fear that Ronald Reagan was merely our own Marcus Aurelius: a fine and principled leader sitting momentarily atop a rotten structure.

  3. Rob Long
    C

    I don’t know, Daniel. I think you’re being way too pessimistic. The real reformers are coming, as usual, out of the states. Can you read this and not be a little cheered? Chris Christie, Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels — these are guys who are actually doing something in their states. You’re right: unfunded pension liabilities, greedy public unions, and the rest can and will take us down. But I have to confess to a lot of optimism every time I see one of these awesome Chris Christie videos on YouTube, or hearing Governor Mitch Daniels — and Ricochet contributor! — on our podcast.

  4. Aaron Miller

    The structuring of governments changes more with population than with time. A large population cannot be governed the same way as a small one, just as a growing business must adapt to its size. The competing forces within our nation are as old as humanity. Reagan was a noble president, not a modern one.

  5. Duane Oyen

    Note that none of those governors are from glamorous states. I further nominate Gov. Pawlenty for inclusion on that list; not in any way downplaying Gov. Daniels’ achievements, Indiana is more conservative-friendly than is Minnesota, and Pawlenty forged a similar record with a taller mountain.

  6. Scott R

    Isn’t it also true that we are living in clarifying times vis-a-vis the states? That is, just as the failure of the welfare state in Europe is becoming obvious to even the least politically engaged, so too is the failure of 1970′s-style gov’t in the states. The most striking example, of course, is the growing separation between Texas and California, two states that are similar in population, natural resources, geographical advantages, and so on, but differ so dramatically in their politics. It would seem to be an effective debating strategy for conservatives to force progressives to defend the record of liberal policies in CA, NY, NJ, and the like and explain how, exactly, they anticipate better results at the national level. Likewise, conservatives should hold well-run states as models. “Here’s what we stand for; Here’s what they stand for. Take your pick, America.” We are living through a teaching moment, and that should be a source of optimism.

  7. Rob Long
    C

    I agree with you, Daniel. The future is sitting in a state house somewhere. Wasn’t it Reagan who said (check me on this, Peter) that there’s no problem we face as a nation that somebody, somewhere in this country, isn’t solving.

    And good point about the unglamorous states, Duane. Unglamorous seems pretty sexy right about now.

  8. Daniel Frank

    Let’s hear it for the unglamorous! I hail from an unglamorous midwestern state myself, and have always appreciated the essential modesty and neighborliness of its people, characteristics in short supply here in the Golden State, at least in its coastal areas.

    I would also like to add that if the size and scope of the Federal leviathan is to be reduced, the states need to be more than laboratories of good policy. They need to reassert their constitutional role as massive centers of political gravity, and reject their transformation in the last century into mere administrative outposts of Washington. That is the necessary project, and the one about whose success I am more pessimistic.

  9. Duane Oyen

    Rob Long: I agree with you, Daniel. The future is sitting in a state house ……

    And good point about the unglamorous states, Duane. Unglamorous seems pretty sexy right about now. · May. 26 at 5:48pm

    All my life I have dreamed that the world might discover the glamor of unglamorous, being the foremost representative, myself.

  10. Luke Nicholson

    I think Rob’s point is true of the political left everywhere. That’s why we have these “causes” they call everyone to rally behind – climate-change being chief among them. Thats why left-wing politics keeps getting re-named. If you have no new ideas, you have to spice things up somehow.

    On a less serious note, I just bought a car-adapter for my iPod. What a fantastic device. Can’t wait to upgrade to the iPhone, and maybe pre-retirement I’ll get to the iPad.

  11. Rob Long
    C

    The bad news is, the federal government is broke. But that’s good news, too, because it means that the states won’t really be able to rely on the feds for money and will have to figure stuff out on their own. So, an optimistic reading of our current fiscal difficulty might suggest that when the feds no longer have a lot of sugar to sprinkle on the states, they lose a huge amount of leverage on them. Put it this way: for the past few decades, the chief responsibility your standard-issue governor was to make sure his or her state complied with federal regulations in order to get federal dollars, and to lobby the feds for more money when needed. Actually governing the state was a couple of spots down on the list of priorities. Bankruptcy has a way of clarifying the mind.

    On the other hand, everyone seems to understand that the feds are out of money except the Top Fed himself. And that’s the bad news.

  12. Mark Wilson

    Rob, I don’t think it’s always useful to criticize ideas based on their vintage–at least from a conservative perspective. Those of you familiar with Tom Sowell’s Conflict of Visions will recognize the “constrained vision” which holds that human nature is fixed and basically unchanging. In that case, it is perfectly rational to uphold the Founding ideas that matured in the late 18th century.

    However, from the leftist perspective of eternal “progress”, which seems to be defined by trendy ideas and fads about how to govern, you’re exactly right to nail these guys for living in the past.

  13. Pat in Obamaland

    Rob, in a weird way I have always wished Governor Daniels wasn’t such a good guy. He would make a truly revolutionary President but I… well… “fear” he cares too much for his family to put them through the ridiculousness that accompanies the job.

    Until very recently, I was a lifelong Hoosier and My Man Mitch has been a leader our state can be proud of. That is a sentiment that is extremely rare in Indiana.

  14. Daniel Frank

    Rob Long:: I don’t know, Daniel. I think you’re being way too pessimistic. The real reformers are coming, as usual, out of the states. Can you read this and not be a little cheered? Chris Christie, Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels — these are guys who are actually doing something in their states.

    I do think you have a point. I mentioned the states because I believe that the way out of the trap for our Republic lies in the renewal of their vigor, and the devolution of much government power back to its constitutionally intended locus. I do not believe that the Federal government can be significantly reformed from within, only momentarily held at bay by a strong Reagan sort of leader. Only a strong push by the states to recover their prerogatives can lead to lasting change, because only the states can function as permanent centers of competitive power to offset Federal ambition.

    I do find Governors Christie, Barbour, and Daniels refreshing and encouraging, and hope that they are the vanguard of such a renewal. But like you, I live in a state that has been Schwarzebeggared. Perhaps I’ll feel more sanguine when I can arrange to leave the state.

  15. Duane Oyen

    Rob, I would never bet cotton candy in a hurricane that the bankruptcy of the federal government would prevent Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer from finding ways to funnel large barrels of cash to electoral-vote-rich California and NY just in time for November. Just wait for “The Promises Kept Civil Service Pension Guarantee Act of 2010″. Then a Corps of Engineers water project to divert the Colorado River West to enable California to control the flow and charge Colorado and Arizona for all the water they may need at Perrier prices.

  16. Aaron Miller
    Rob Long: The bad news is, the federal government is broke. But that’s good news, too, because it means that the states won’t really be able to rely on the feds for money and will have to figure stuff out on their own. · May. 27 at 11:40am

    States are still accepting and begging for federal money, which is in endless supply for the foreseeable future. Common sense would suggest that the federal government is “broke”, but nothing about the federal budget is sensible. The Fed will continue to print money. Inflation will occur long before states stop accepting federal dollars.

    If anything makes states rely increasingly on themselves, it won’t be an empty federal well. It will be the growing determination of state officials and private citizens to reassert their freedoms as enumerated in the Constitution and as spoken in their churches.

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