The Growing Tyranny of the Political Elite
Recently, the White House released a photo of the president shooting skeet. But where's the snap of him fishing for bass? Apparently the White House felt compelled to portray Obama as a marksman in light of the widespread pushback over the administration's gun control agenda but felt no urgency to defend the prospect of the EPA's potential regulation of lead in fishing weights. Yet the agency seriously entertained just such a ban last year. What's next? The lead in barbells?
For hundreds of years, human beings have used lead for many purposes, and life on earth has not exactly come to an end. Now we are told that the lead used in hunting and fishing is harming animals and fish, and it may just have to stop. The scary thing is that one individual, an appointed bureaucrat directing the Environmental Protection Agency, has the power to impose such a ban.
The pattern is familiar with this administration. A small cadre of elite administrators, czars, judges, or politicians -- often just one person -- thinks it (or he or she) has the right to decide what's best for 320 million Americans. Without adequate information, debate, or cost analysis, regulations are written and imposed, and no one, not even the people's representatives in the House of Representatives, has the right to influence them.
Political elites have always existed in America, and during the past 100 years they have gravitated toward the Democratic Party. FDR's "brain trust," which included Guy Tugwell and Hugh Johnson, was just one example. But perhaps no administration in our history has been controlled by elites to the extent that the Obama presidency has. With academics like Cass Sunstein and crony capitalists like those backing green energy projects calling the shots, the elite have stepped in, determined to rule in place of the public will.
What is now happening was predicted -- and celebrated -- over forty years ago by Robert L. Heilbroner, one of the darlings of the New Left. In The Limits of American Capitalism, Heilbroner laid out a plan by which the innately conservative leanings of the American people could be quashed and replaced by the centralized control of a political elite. Heilbroner's book concludes with a chilling vision of the way forward. What he advocates is, in effect, a socialist totalitarian state, where the government controls every aspect of human life. In the name of reform, this statist system would regulate if not nationalize all major industries -- but it would also go farther than that.
What Heilbroner envisaged was the rise of a ruling elite centralized in government, media, and the universities. This group of decision-makers would operate "on behalf of" the public and on the basis of "scientific principles" of social control. As Heilbroner writes, "[n]ot alone economic affairs ... but the numbers and location of the population, its genetic quality, the manner of social domestication of children, the choice of lifework -- even the duration of life itself -- are all apt to become subjects for scientific investigation and control" (The Limits of American Capitalism, New York, 1966, pp. 129-130).
Heilbroner's books were bestsellers in the 1960s, widely read and admired by liberals everywhere. They were, in effect, neo-Keynesian, pro-statist instruction manuals studied by the likes of Bill Ayers and Cass Sunstein, President Obama's tutors in state control and regulation.
Heibroner's books popularized the liberal premise that the political elite has the right and obligation to make fundamental decisions on behalf of the mass of citizens. In doing so, Heilbroner understood, the elite must find ways to subvert the naturally conservative inclinations of the people -- especially those lumpen-headed businessmen whom Heilbroner so despised. Decision-making must be shifted from individuals and elected representatives to bureaucrats and judges appointed by leftist politicians. Public opinion must be shaped and molded by elitist academics and journalists. The will of the state must be imposed, by violence if necessary. This was the future of America, according to Robert L. Heilbroner, and it is the vision of America adopted by those young activists in the 1960s and 1970s who now constitute the leadership of the Democratic Party.
Heilbroner believed that it would take hundreds of years to overturn democracy in America, in part because of the nation's widespread support of capitalism and the country's pesky tradition of individual rights. He noted, however, that the process could be speeded up in the event of a severe economic crisis. Another great national depression or prolonged recession would make it possible for government to enact a series of "reforms" that would shift control from the private sector to government. Government would then control not just major sectors of the economy, but the personal lives of all citizens. Their incomes, their health care, their educations, their home mortgages, their communications and entertainment, their access to news and information would all fall under the control of the political elite. At that point, Heilbroner believed, utopia would be at hand.
Everything that Heilbroner predicted is now coming to pass. Attorney General Holder has waged a virtual war against Arizona's attempt to defend itself against unchecked immigration. Congress has created an office of consumer affairs with broad powers to regulate financial transactions. A European-style bureaucrat has been appointed to direct the rationing of medical services. And the EPA believes that it has the authority not just to police hunting and fishing supplies, but to regulate carbon dioxide, a natural product of the act of breathing.
The preferred modus operandi, in fact, is to appoint a single individual with the power to control some large part of American life. So much power has now been concentrated in the hands of a handful of appointees, most of them reporting directly to the president, that it is now doubtful whether America can still be considered a democratic nation. Government has become the enemy of the people, because it is now in the hands of left-wing elitists who are opposed to traditional American values and who have only contempt for the democratic process.
Fortunately, Americans are becoming more aware of the concentration of power within the new political elite and more skeptical of the elite's ability to govern. While the president's job approval rating has for the moment risen following his election victory, a growing number of Americans "strongly disapprove" of his performance. An even larger percentage finds that Congress, with leaders like Democrat Harry Reid in charge of the Senate, is incapable of governing.
What's needed is to make 2014 another 2010 and throw the rascals out -- all of them who support Obama's unconstitutional "recess" appointments and agency power grabs.
Dr. Jeffrey Folks taught for thirty years in universities in Europe, America, and Japan. He has published many books and articles on American culture and politics.