Saturday, May 18, 2013

Bread and Circuses

For now, most Americans do not seem to be especially moved by the Obama administration’s serial abuses of power. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are appalled at the way the IRS interfered in the last election, but that seems to be as far as it goes.

It’s very difficult to sell a scandal when the economy seems to be improving and the stock market has been on an inexorable advance.

In 1998 Republicans discovered to their chagrin that when the economy is strong most citizens would rather not disrupt it by changing political leaders.

One might argue that the stock market is being kept a float on a sea of liquidity and that one day the liquidity will dry up. Then, the markets will decline and unhappy days will be here again.

Until then, everyone knows that the Dow is at a record high. Everyone knows that the deficit is contracting. Optimism reigns. Contrarian thinkers see it as a dire warning, but they are, by definition, a small minority. For most people the news coming from the markets has been good.

At the same time, unconscionably large numbers of Americans are unemployed, underemployed or have quit looking for work. If you think that this cohort would be sufficiently upset about its future prospects to hold the administration to account, you would be wrong.

Today’s unemployed are well-fed and well-entertained. They even have health insurance.

In a stroke of political genius the Obama administration has kept them afloat with food stamps and extended unemployment benefits. This group of potentially disaffected voters has been bought off. Its members see the drama surrounding the scandals as entertainment.

The administration has consolidated its power by offering what the Roman satirist Juvenal called “bread and circuses.”

Writing in 100 A. D., Juvenal described a Rome that was facing a moral decline:

… Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses 

Juvenal’s Rome had succumbed to temptation and devalued work in favor of leisure. In so doing Romans took leave of their civic responsibility. They resemble a populace that votes for its own entitlements in favor of job opportunities.

Formerly, being unemployed meant bearing a stigma. No more. Those who seem to be permanently unemployed are almost an entitled aristocracy. They do not have titles, but they feel and act as though they, by the accident of their birth, are entitled to live off the government.

Surely, it’s false pride, but for many people false pride is better than no pride.

They have confused leisure for happiness and are pursuing it with gusto. They are happy to vote for the candidates who give them the most while demanding the least.

Seeming to lack a sense of civic responsibility, they vote more for what is best for them, less for what is best for the country. 

They do not much care about whether a president abuses his power to attack his enemies, because they are benefiting from his power.

Of course, they do not believe that they bear any responsibility for their condition. Like their favorite president, or perhaps emulating their favorite president, they are happy to shift the blame.

When it comes to moral responsibility, Barack Obama is in a class by himself. His IRS has been caught persecuting Republican groups. His IRS has been caught persecuting Republican donors. It was all done to benefit his re-election campaign. What good is power if you cannot use it to persecute your enemies?

Barack Obama and his merry band of moral eunuchs are insisting that he bears no responsibility because he did not give any direct orders to the IRS.

In itself, this confuses criminal liability with moral responsibility. True enough, if people acted in your name on their own initiative without your consent or knowledge, you are not criminally liable. But, if they are working for you then you do bear moral responsibility. You should be mortified at what has happened.

Peggy Noonan provides the moral backdrop:

The president, as usual, acts as if all of this is totally unconnected to him. He's shocked, it's unacceptable, he'll get to the bottom of it. He read about it in the papers, just like you.

But he is not unconnected, he is not a bystander. This is his administration. Those are his executive agencies. He runs the IRS and the Justice Department.

A president sets a mood, a tone. He establishes an atmosphere. If he is arrogant, arrogance spreads. If he is too partisan, too disrespecting of political adversaries, that spreads too. Presidents always undo themselves and then blame it on the third guy in the last row in the sleepy agency across town.

Let’s not forget, these actions by “rogue” IRS agents helped the Obama election campaign. Isn’t President Obama ashamed that his re-election victory has now been tainted by an abuse of IRS power?

If he isn’t, he should be. He should not continue to regale us with his fake outrage, but he does owe the nation an apology for the behavior of his IRS.


Anonymous said...

The links on this page are for a series of lectures advocating the ability of Big Government to provide a JG (Job Guarantee). The first lecture ends with a comment by the moderator, a historian of the Roman Empire, making a comment that of the 650 or so interpretations of the fall of the empire, he attributes part of the cause to the inability of Rome to "tax the rich."

Perhaps Bread and Circuses is all the empire can afford when it loses the power to tax the richest portion of society? Perhaps this leads to smaller government, that is, the collapse of the empire?

Sam L. said...

Oh, Stuart, Stuart Stuart! Benghazi Barry cannot feel embarrassment or shame. That should be obvious by now.