Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Pat Buchanan's Narrative

I find Pat Buchanan's grasp of concepts to be weak. He does, however, have two abilities which are so far above the norm to keep him plausible. First, I have never read a shrewder judge of character and personality. His description of Richard Nixon's personality, which I read in the late 80's clarified for me all the ambiguities that I had noted until then. It gave shape to his paranoia, which seemed otherwise incongruous in as pragmatic a personality as Nixon's. When I heard Buchanan describe the relationship between Bill and Hilary Clinton on Imus in 1994, everything came instantly into focus, and nothing surprized me thereafter.

Secondly, he knows how to condense his thoughts into a narrative. Narrative is a step above anecdote in reasoning, and Pat can paint word pictures that give you the impression that what he describes is happening to simply thousands, tens of thousands, of working men and women. Even if you don't agree with his solutions, you listen to him and believe he has identified the problem.

Buchanan believes that globalization is bad for the American economy. He notes, accurately but selectively, jobs that are going overseas. Good jobs, that Americans would like to have. When challenged with the plain fact that the unemplyment rate is extremely low - low enough that people with bad attitudes and no interest in work are getting jobs - he counters that the new jobs being created are crummy jobs. The high-tech and information jobs are going to India; the putting-sneakers-in-a-box jobs are being created here.

It's a highly plausible narrative. We read often about plant closings, jobs lost, restructurings, and downsizings counterbalanced by stories about how much of our clothing is being made in China. We all know people who have lost high-paying jobs, and we all know about crummy jobs that are available. It all ties in nicely. In theory, or rather, in narrative.

But large changes in the economy eventually show up in the statisitcs, which provide a reality check on the narratives. Or should. When we go looking for these results in the actual jobs in the American economy, we don't find what PB predicted about NAFTA and GATT. It is the old jobs that have the stagnant wages, not the new ones. The new jobs are more varied and volatile in remuneration, but they pay more overall than the old jobs. Unions protect old jobs. They achieve pittance wage increases and slow the loss of those jobs, but sectors with unions are not the growing sectors. I don't have much objection to the theory of unions - I used to belong to the one where I work before it affiliated nationally - but it's a suckers bet, an us/them at this point. It's the new small businesses, and new departments in old businesses, that are not only creating the jobs, but creating the good jobs. There are new medical specialties, new medical jobs, because we can do more now. Hospitals didn't used to be able to do much for you; now we do magic. That's why they're filled with technically competent people who get paid more than sneaker-in-the-box people. We manufacture stuff that didn't exist 10 years ago.

My son just got a job as a filmmaker. For a Methodist church. In 1976, do you think the Methodists had even one full-time filmmaker, anywhere? (Okay, maybe at national. Or maybe not.) My job existed 30 years ago. It's going nowhere.

The new jobs are where it's at, Pat.


Anonymous said...

AVI, I'm much less impressed with PB's (would you like J with that?) narrative than you are. I see him as a contraian, as bombastic and as someone with an axe to grind. Right now, he is riding the "jobs" issue, but I can remember back in the day when he ran on other issues as well, and he seemed to me to be somewhat bombastic then too.

His real skill is in describing some folk that he has grown to know one way or another. I can understand his take on Nixon, he was close to Nixon. I am less able to understand his take on the Clintons and I doubt that he was close to them at any given time. He may have been right, but not because he knew them well. Moot point? Perhaps.

Buchanan will often/always be remembered as an American Firster and while I have little problem with that bit of chauvinism (and no, IMHO chauvinism is not necessarily bad) he is also a tried and true xenophobe. That will not work in a global economy and fighting it (remember Smoot-Hawley?), rather than working within that framework, is as futile as trying to get "seven maids with seven mops" to wipe up all the sand! Just ask the Walrus or the Carpenter.

Anonymous said...

Well, this political stuff is OK as far as it goes, but when do we get to the "fractal patterns of bark" that Jonathan was foretelling?

cakreiz said...

I'm curious how PB described the Bill-Hillary relationship, AVI. Can you give us a quick summary?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Both thin-skinned and take everything personally and globally, even from each other. That is, if you criticize his foreign policy, he treats it as if his domestic policy, record as governor, and role as a father are all under attack. She (at the time - maybe still) over-identifies with him and takes criticism of him as criticism of her.

They don't like each other but are dependent on each other for protection.

Because of this, both tend to regard all criticism as invalid. Perceiving criticism as global - and of course no one is always bad or wrong - they reject it. Both are personally punitive, but when they have extracted their personal revenge believe no one else should have an issue.

bs king said...

Maybe we should make Pat a football commentator. That could be fun.

cakreiz said...

Thanks for PB's assessment of Team Clinton. I thought that you'd forgotten about me and I was starting to take it personally... :)

Assistant Village Idiot said...

cakeriz, never let paranoia overcome simple incompetence as a reason why things go wrong. I was actually looking for something else and then thought "Oh yeah! There's a question to answer. It's not like I get so many I can afford to ignore them!"

cakreiz said...

Seriously, PB's assessment of Hill and Bill as taking everything personally is spot on. It helps explain Hill's "great right wing conspiracy." It's fascinating that politics attracts thin skinned people, but not entirely surprising. Guess it comes with a narcissist's territory.

As for incompetence over malice, I've always been a firm believer in Hanlon's Razor. Life's too short (or long) to believe otherwise.