Wandering over to comment on some left-leaning blogs, I was puzzled yet again by the accusations of tyranny, of fascism, and of the new pet phrase Unitary Authority, referring to Bush, of course. This rhetoric is so common on the left, with frequent mentions of how the Republicans "control" all branches of government, worries of imposed theocracy, and fear of multinational corporations (or "corporate interests").
Conservatives see this as merely bizarre, that anyone could think that Chavez, the Saddam of yore, and Bush differ in national authority only in small degree. Liberals think conservatives blind for not seeing it. It is for this reason that protestations that the left is being paranoid and hyperbolic fall on deaf ears. They really believe that a president wields enormous power, and any move by the Bush administration to assert authority in an unclear area is an attempt to capture that last few percentage points of power and bring us close to autocracy.
Power is quite diffuse in American society. The power of a president, or a Supreme Court Justice, or a Senator is much less than - I suspect - liberals know. The TV news likes to use phrases such as "the most powerful leader in the world," but that gives a very false impression. There are many kinds of power, and many players in the game. There is power to do as one pleases, there is power to influence, there is power to be left alone; cultural power, financial power, political power, military power. Bush is limited in his power not because of the unceasing efforts of progressives fighting brilliant rearguard actions, but because of the basic structure of American society. No one has that much power, and none of us are without some power.
Libertarians understand this better than conservatives, conservatives better than liberals. I wish I could penetrate why this is. Small businessmen perhaps have a realistic understand of the contradiction between having great freedom and limited power. It is hard to influence others, hard to make the world work the way you would like it. Government employees, on the other hand, may see themselves as powerless to change top-down authority, and see politics as working in much the same way. They may believe that some few get to tell others what to do, and the trick is to become one of the few, or band together to push one of the few around. Perhaps this is particularly strong in African-American and other minority communities, which believe that only by banding together do they have any power at all.
Bringing up children teaches both the hugeness and limitation of individual power; multiple children even more. I have had enormous influence on my sons - but they are who they are and they go their own way. And they in turn have influenced me, from their earliest days.
Do liberals feel personally powerless? Or more subtly, do they believe they have a measure of control over their destiny but the great mass of American society does not (the rubes)? They believe advertising drives purchasing more than personal choice. This would go some way to explaining why they believe that elections are stolen from them or that Darth Rove tricks the public.
If they believe that some few pull most of the strings, it would explain their paranoid reactions to the normal ebb and flow, checks and balances of political life. As I'm writing off the top of my head here, I welcome comments to help clarify this.