by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
When considering the major failures of recent American governance – the 2008-09 financial crisis, the catastrophe that is U.S. policy in the Mideast – the one thing that any honest-minded person must conclude is: Nobody meant for things to turn out this way. It is impossible to make precise predictions about the effects of government policy; that is the nature of systems characterized by high levels of complexity. It’s one thing to predict that it’ll be colder during the winter, but another thing to predict down to the millimeter how much snow will fall on a particular acre in rural Maine on the third Wednesday in February, which is really what we expect from our public policy.
Classic cowboy movies, in contrast, are not complex at all: The good guys wear white hats, the bad guys wear black hats, all hats remain firmly affixed to all heads at all times, and that’s that. You can pretty much always predict how an old Western is going to turn out.
But that isn’t how the real world works. …
… In popular culture, it is a commonplace that we could have cures for AIDS or cancer if not for the greed of doctors and pharmaceutical companies, that we could have cars that run off of sunshine and goodwill if not for the wickedness of the oil barons. Progressive media is entirely captive to the Evil-Man Theory of Everything, and popular left-leaning commentators such as Thom Hartmann are as crude in their illiterate moralism as any 1930s demagogue – indeed, as economic analysis, their views are indistinguishable from those of Father Coughlin.
The tendency festers in some quadrants of the Right as well. It is one thing to believe that Barack Obama, cookie-cutter Ivy League progressive that he is, broadly sympathizes with the critique of American power proffered by Edward Said or any of the other voguish leftists he would have encountered as a student and activist; it is another thing entirely to argue that the United States failed to prevent the emergence of the Islamic State because Barack Obama is a jihadist saboteur. Even if you believe that Barack Obama is a genuinely bad man – a black-hat-wearing SOB – that would not be a sufficient explanation for the defects of his administration or for the failures of American policy abroad.