Several days ago, in a critique of the Obama response to the Israeli attack on a Turkish ship, former national security advisor Richard Allen brought up the response of Ronald Reagan to the 1981 Israeli destruction of the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq. Based on what Mr. Allen describes as Mr. Reagan’s “extensive preparation” and “deeply held principles on foreign policy,” Mr. Reagan’s response was: “Boys will be boys.” Mr. Allen takes this as wisdom beyond the reach of experts and profound presidential analysis of a dramatic attack by one nation on another in the Middle East tinderbox.
It surely ranks, in terms of simplicity, with “Stuff happens” and “You’re doin’ a heck of a job, Brownie.”
In times when almost everything seems too complex, simplicity has its appeal. Mr. Allen thought Mr. Reagan got right to the core, the essence, of Middle East, and possibly world, relations. If he did, it is not obviously so and requires a discerning mind that few of us possess.
Perhaps more than any other, more sophisticated political analysis, however, this may isolate the gene that separates the conservative from the liberal mind. It also accounts for the popularity in certain circles of a Sarah Palin. Life’s not all that complicated. It’s just a matter of common sense. Eliminate taxes and government. Refuse to address consequences. Every person for himself or herself. And devil take the hindmost. Boys will be boys.
When Ronald Reagan says “boys will be boys” and Donald Rumsfeld says “stuff happens,” this is a whole political philosophy, a world view. Life really is just one damn thing after another. And society, all of us together, are wasting our time—and particularly our tax dollars—trying to make things better. The liberal fallacy is to believe in improvement, progress, and a better way. The fallacy is compounded when it requires serious thought, analysis, and an appreciation of history.
The facts of life are simple: investment bankers will be greedy; defense contractors will be corrupt; government officials are praised for just showing up; politicians will protect their careers; oil companies will cut corners. The conservative mind understands basic human nature, and it is not a pretty sight. Boys will be boys.
John Calvin constructed a theology around this notion. Life is preordained. You are either among the elect or the non-elect. Life is predestined and predetermined. Many conservative thinkers seem to operate from similar simplistic premises. To be on the inside of conservative thought is to operate within a closed system and a simplistic one at that. Very little changes, and nothing changes very much. So only quixotic fools struggle for equality and justice.
Boys will be boys. That is, until the consequences of their simplistic boyishness brings catastrophe down on all of us. Then we may need some real leaders.