Posted by: jackslife | April 27, 2009

Small Town Values

Patrick Deneen has a great post up where he gives a critique on David Brooks take on a recent speech by President Obama.  The section of Brooks’ column that Deneen is focusing on is –

America once had a responsible economic culture, Obama argued. People used to save their pennies to buy their dream houses. Banks used to lend by ‘traditional standards.’ Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac used to stick to their ‘traditional mandate.’ Companies like AIG used to limit themselves to the ‘traditional insurance business.’

But these traditions broke down, Obama continued. They were swamped by irresponsibility. Businesspeople chased ‘short-term profits’ over long-term investments. Smart people spent more time manipulating numbers and symbols rather than actually making things. Americans consumed too much and saved too little. America became corrupted by ‘excessive debt,’ ‘reckless speculation’ and ‘fleeting profits.’

Deneen makes a couple of great points regarding this article.  The first is that Brooks is correct that Republicans should be concerned about Obama grabbing onto this rhetoric.  The second is that there really isn’t any substantive action in the area of small town values in Obama’s plans.  It seems to me that Obama is basically just doing the same thing that the Republican’s have been doing for years, which is to pay lip service to these kind of ideals without allowing it to affect policy in any tangible way.  From the Deneen post –

Tut tut, David. We are now coming out of a period when the central message of the Republican Party – which was regnant in the Presidency during twenty of the past twenty-nine years – was a that of “individual responsibility,” “family values,” and the valorization of the traditional virtues over forms of liberal irresponsibility. Over that same time period what we have decisively witnessed is the overall decline of all of these desiderata. Whether in the economy, the role of the family, adherence to traditional religious belief, or the health of “small towns,” we have witnessed a steady and breathtakingly rapid decline of every measure of “traditional” ways of life. Relying on the virtues purportedly generated by the “Free Market” rather than “Big Government,” Republicans were willing to accommodate themselves to the myriad ways that the expansion of the particular market system they generally supported actively undermined the very virtues to which they were simultaneously paying lip service. Now we are being told that it is in fact Big Government that can supply the necessary underpinnings for shoring up “traditional values.” Really? Given this woeful disconnect between the rhetoric of a regnant Party and the actual facts on the ground in the world, why should we credit for a moment the extolling of “traditional values” in one speech, now by a Democrat? Yes, Brooks is right that Republicans have reason to be fearful, inasmuch as his “traditionalist” rhetoric represents a serious political threat. But, should conservatives be heartened? At the very least we might be curious whether there seems to be evidence of “money” where the President’s mouth is. And, by this test, I see as little evidence of an actual commitment to the realization of a traditional culture that actually supports traditional values of the sort commended by President Obama as I have in the past thirty years dominated by “conservatives.”

Deneen goes on to ask, “Where’s the beef?” in the Obama plans.

To take just a few examples, increased regulation of the financial industry will not in itself promote more “responsibility.” Many have observed that even before the crisis that the financial industry was one of the most regulated industries in the country: in part what was lacking was the political desire or will to enforce the regulation in the midst of what appeared to be a financial boom, but more fundamentally it is the very structure of the current financial and broader economic system that encourages the very opposite of responsibility. The abstraction of the financial markets – the separation of “producers” from “consumers” and the geographical separation between production and consumption – induces a profound ignorance about the actual effects of our activities as “consumers” or “investors,” and is the very precondition for the most profound form of ignorance and irresponsibility. Where in the President’s policy proposals do we see efforts to reconnect products with the localities from which they are derived – for instance, an effort to encourage banks to retain mortgages based within their localities and for which they will be responsible for the lives of those loans?  Where is a call to break up any businesses that are “too big to fail,” that hold national policy over a barrel and obligate American taxpayers to bail out bad actors and companies that shouldn’t still be in business?  How about policies that gave advantages to smaller firms and made it far more difficult for bigger firms to operate?  These are the kinds of policies that might encourage “small-town values” of thrift and responsibility – precisely because those activities are lodged in a place – and it is just these kinds of values that the President is in no way whatsoever interested in promoting, that would in fact go against his deepest inclinations to promote separation and placelessness.

Ultimately the question is whether we really think that these ‘small town values’ are really valuable to us as conservatives.  It is clear that both parties have embraced policies that are ultimately opposed to the preservation of small towns and their values, but the question is whether we care.  If we are interested in preserving small towns, Deneen’s suggestions could serve as a good starting point.

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