Stop waiting for superman

Byline: | Category: 2012 | Posted at: Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Question from yesterday’s Democratic Senatorial debate for the nomination to contest Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown:

What Super Hero [would you] be if you could be one, and why?

Seriously.  That was a question.  And sadly, each of the Democratic candidates answered the question as if it was serious.  Among the answers proferred, was the Incredible Hulk, one-half of the Wonder Twins, and from progressive favorite Elizabeth Warren, a sexist stereotype confirming response of, “Wonder Woman. I liked her costume and especially her bracelets.”

Unfortunately, none of the candidates gave the proper response.  That proper response was this:

I object to this question.  Americans don’t need super heroes.  We don’t wait for Supermen.  Europeans wait for supermen in troubling times of war and catastrophe.  And when they think they’ve found their supermen, they give them super powers over themselves.  You’ve heard their names before:  names like Cromwell, Napoleon, Mussolini, and Hitler.  Instead, Americans find superpowers within themselves, within everyman.  It’s called democracy.  I’m not a superman.  I’m not waiting for one.  And quite frankly, I don’t ever want one.

Sigh . . .

Yesterday the New Yorker explored the current economic crisis, and they almost got it.  Noting that the “proximate cause” for the latest round of troubled economic times is the Greek debt situation, John Lanchester probes for deeper causes:

Perhaps that was the euro’s original sin—the reality that fiscal and budgetary rules could be broken without consequence. Or perhaps the sin was more fundamental than that: perhaps it was the attempt to create a currency union among countries with different economies, histories, cultures, tax rates, fiscal systems, legal frameworks—and doing so with a European Central Bank to oversee the currency but with no controlling political institution in parallel with that bank. Or perhaps it was a simpler, democratic deficit: the fact that for voters unhappy with pan-European policy there was no direct mechanism to commit the most basic political act of all—throw the bums out.  

Sadly, Lanchester explored that last possibility no further.  Because had he done so he would have seen that that was where the ultimate cause lay.  It is the conceit that an enlightened centrally planned economy, unhampered by messy markets and democracies, can overcome economic difficulties.  You see evidence of that conceit in Lanchester’s next paragraph: 

This is the moment when the grownups are supposed to step in and clean up the mess. The bigger and stronger euro-zone economies—in alliance with the International Monetary Fund—must step in with bailouts for Greece, before the mayhem spreads to other euro-zone countries and the banks. 

Here’s the problem:  there are no grownups. 

There never have been grownups.  And Europeans have never learned that lesson.  Whether it was the clash of King and Parliament, the disorder of revolution, or simply getting the trains to run on time, every time that Europe thought that they needed a superman, they gave superpowers to a buffoon . . . or worse.

This is the central problem of European-style centralized planning:  if we can just grant the right authorities to the right person, they hope, then all will be well.  Never mind the fact that such authorities are almost always, by definition, anti-democratic.  That’s because, for superman to have super powers to do the “right thing,” it means that he must have control over everyman.

While the American system of democratic control of representative government does not guarantee success, it does guarantee that America would not fail for the same reasons that Europeans governments and societies have historically failed.  Europeans have failed in the past (and sadly look destined to continue to fail in the future) because they turn to look for the “grownups” to lead them out of a mess.  Inevitably, those same grownups only make the mess worse.  America, if it fails, will only fail if its people fail.

You might remember a popular book a few years back:  “Everything I ever needed to know I learned in kindergarten.”  One of the things that you learned in kindergarten was that there was always a grownup in control of the situation.  But the real lesson you should have learned as you grew wiser, past your kindergarten years, was that no-one is ever in charge, and no-one ever advances beyond kindergarten–including the so-called grownups.  As a teenager you learned that your parents have flaws.  Then as a parent yourself, you learned that you are at least as flawed as your own parents.  That’s the moment of clarity that Europeans have never had.  They still strive for the grownup to make everything alright, to stop the playground fight.

The truth is that this economic mess in which we find ourselves is not going to end happily.  Not everyone will return to their previous vocation at their previous wages.  There is no kindergarten teacher who can clean things up and restore them to the way they were.  There is no superman to fly at the speed of light to bring Lois Lane back to life.  And the sooner that we accept that human problems will only be solved by everymen instead of supermen, the sooner everyman can get back to work.

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4 Responses to “Stop waiting for superman”

  1. Stan Says:

    “…They still strive for the grownup to make everything alright, to stop the playground fight…” This defined the “Progressives” including th e”Occupy Wall Street” folks.

  2. “Here’s the problem: there are no grownups. “ | This World and Others Says:

    [...] I have a new hero!  I love this line, maybe it was just a matter of right words at the right time on the right topic but it is perfect.  Bob Krum was discussing the euro debt crisis among other things (like stupid questions on ’presidential debates’) in Stop Waiting for Superman.   [...]

  3. MarkH Says:

    I read the line “Here is the problem: There are no grownups” and it hit me light a blinding stroke of the obviouse. Exactly the right words pinning down some of the problems we are having, not just in Europe but in the US. Too many folks in the US have gotten used to the idea that somehow the grownups can regulate us into good behaviour and good results. But any system we create will be gamed and the more complex the system the easier it is for the conment to play and the harder it is for the rest of us to maintain.

    Thanks for that great insight, and a great blog in general.

  4. Pat Says:

    It’s very possible that the Europeans take themselves too seriously, and actually believe they have legitimacy where there is none.

    Americans long ago recognized that suited well doesn’t necessary mean there is anything between the ears.

    Dressing for success has its limits, and most Americans are willing to look behind the curtain, or examine the veil of propriety to get to the essence, something Europeans don’t do especially well, perhaps because of European protocol, and class structure.

    Freedom means freedom in America, or did, until the last 10 years of torturing it with unmandated legislation and activist judges writing it out of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

    We definitely need our troops home to aid in the restoration of what they thought they were fighting for. Gee, will they be surprised!