Commentary Magazine

The Importance of Being Stupid

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

Maybe geographic “sorting,” in which like-minded people tend to herd themselves into politically homogeneous communities, is to blame. Maybe social media and the caustic, stubborn posturing it rewards is at fault. Maybe it’s always been this way. Whatever the cause, it has become an undeniable fact that getting ahead in public life demands some deference to unmitigated stupidity.

Take, for example, a couple of recent pronouncements by the Democratic Party’s newest celebrity: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Her victory over her county’s Democratic Party chairman and the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives in last month’s primary was no small feat, but that accomplishment has led some political observers to assign to her a level of political competence that she has not yet earned.

The 28-year-old who in all likelihood will soon serve as the representative from New York’s 14th Congressional district was recently asked by “Firing Line” host Margaret Hoover to discuss her frustrations with the state of Israel. Ocasio-Cortez described Israel’s response to violent provocations on its border with Gaza as a “massacre,” and explained that the “occupation” of Palestinian lands represents an “increasing crisis of humanitarian condition.” But where other members of the media might have moved on or finished Ocasio-Cortez’s half-baked thought for her, Hoover admirably asked the future congresswoman to elaborate.

“I think what I meant is, like, the settlements that are increasing in these areas, where Palestinians are experiencing difficulty in access to their housing and homes,”Ocasio-Cortez said. Hoover asked again for more elaboration, at which point Ocasio-Cortez gave up the game. “I am not the expert on geopolitics on this issue,” she said with a chuckle. These are only talking points, you see. She didn’t really know what she was talking about.

Gaza is, of course, not occupied. Indeed, the land was ethnically cleansed of Jews over a decade ago. Most of the West Bank’s civilian settlements, a footprint that takes up approximately 2 percent of the land in the region, will be apportioned to Israel in any viable peace deal (as had been the case in past deals). To think critically on the matter for a few minutes would leave any rational observer to wonder why the violence in unoccupied Gaza erupted with a ferocity that was not reproduced in the supposedly occupied West Bank. But no one is doing much thinking here. These were statements of fealty to a cause, not a principle.

This isn’t the first time Ocasio-Cortez should have disappointed her indefatigable boosters. Shortly after her election victory, she appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” where she was asked if tax increases could pay for her preferred agenda items: Medicare-for-all, free post-graduate education at state institutions, expanded Social Security, and a federal employment guarantee. “Not only that,” she replied, “but also to understand that the federal government does have the ability in the similar way that we had in the New Deal to spearhead this agenda and some of that financing as well.” Pardon?

To a certain segment of the left, this non-answer is a perfectly justified dodge because the honest response to this question is politically untenable. You see, to some on the new left, we don’t have to pay for anything. The United States mints its own currency, sets its value, and can finance through loans whatever it wants—even including what experts estimate could be the $32 trillion price tag on a single-payer healthcare program. Ocasio-Cortez’s incomprehensible dissimulation was an evasive maneuver, but a necessary one. After all, according to Senator Bernie Sanders, such a program would require the country to spend “such an astronomical sum of money that, you know, we would bankrupt the nation.” But the self-described socialist from Vermont said that in 1987, back when moving up in Democratic politics meant paying obeisance to other stupid ideas.

Medicare-for-all is one of many politically and arithmetically untenable ideas so obviously unfeasible that only intelligent people could erect logical constructs elaborate enough to convince themselves of their viability. For political superstars like Sanders or Ocasio-Cortez, a little tactical stupidity is a valuable asset. After all, there is a big marketplace available to those who are willing to tell you what you already believe.

If conservatives are inclined to take heart in the fact that these liberal slogans are unlikely to manifest in policy when Democrats regain political power, a brief survey of the GOP’s attempts to realize its own stupid ideas should disabuse them of that hope. Foremost among those has to be the Trumpified Republican Party’s hostility toward the kind of global free-trade regimes the party had spent the better part of the prior twenty years establishing.

On balance, barrier-free trade creates more winners than losers, raises standards of living, reduces poverty across the board, and limits the potential for armed conflict between nations. Republicans know this implicitly, if only because they have spent so much energy in the Trump era lamenting the death of the Trans-Pacific Partnership in all but name. The Trump administration’s rapidly expanding trade war with China, a project that is cheered on by even his erstwhile GOP critics, would have been advanced by that 11-nation agreement that excluded the People’s Republic. Hardly a week goes by that the Trump administration doesn’t lament unfair barriers to accessing Southeast Asian markets, Japanese protectionism, Australian competition, or Canadian dairy subsidization. All of this and more would have been resolved in America’s favor in a post-TPP world.

The president’s heedless antagonism toward both America’s allies and its strategic competitors are not without cost. If fully implemented, the increased prices of consumer goods and reduced access to foreign markets could shave as much as .3 to .4 percent off quarterly GDP growth. The economy can absorb these unnecessary blows, but there is otherwise no logic buttressing this policy. Donald Trump promised on the campaign trail to deliver a policy that would disproportionately harm all American consumers to preserve only a few thousand inefficient jobs, and he delivered. There’s a lesson there. No one should put their faith in arithmetic to save them from the socialist utopia Democrats promise today.

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