The Appeal of the Simplistic

Author: Gary Hart

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.

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21 Responses to “The Appeal of the Simplistic”

  1. Terry Steichen Says:

    To the degree to which we act on that appeal (of the simplistic), we remain captive to the past and to those who (often skillfully) manipulate our memories of it. It’s comforting in the short-run, but disastrous beyond that.

  2. Entertainment » Gary Hart: The Appeal of the Simplistic Says:

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  3. Jeff Simpson Says:

    A right-leaning commentator on this blog a number of weeks back articulated the same argument that our government did a terrible job helping people, but left unsaid the obvious corollary that therefore it should not even try. The astute senior citizen who is not beguiled by pithy and vague platitudes might discern that this also means getting rid of social security and medicare, but the GOP will be loath to make this vote-losing admission.

    To put this mindset into an analogy that the most sedentary can grasp: If we clear the field of the referees, the dirty players will prevail as the victors, but it may get ugly.

    The notion that government has no business enforcing rules of fair play or helping folks down on their luck wholly neglects the Constitution’s preamble:

    “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence,[1] promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

    Doing away with messy notions of justice, tranquility, and promotion of the general welfare would certainly make it read a lot differently. While they are at it, they might swap out the word ‘people’ and replace it with the word ‘rich,’ as in “Government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich.”

  4. Guerrier Elisabeth Says:

    The distance between a simplistic comment or analysis as political tools and propaganda is very short. ” Boys will be boys” may be the other side of “Pane et circenses”.
    Give to the crowd what it is waiting for : quick answers, easy thinking, immediate release of any mental tension and no questions, only short answers.
    Democracy is supposed to require some work done by the people themselves, not only by the politicians.
    Are we responsible members of a democracy only because we give our votes ?
    Being a responsible member requires some work done, an mental attitude : skeptic, rational, experimental as B. Russel pointed it, a state of mind found both in Democracy and scientific vision that share the same movement towards some “truth” in all its complexity.
    Is looking for some parts of “Truth” in all its escaping unintelligibility only under the politician’s responsibility or under the responsibility of the ones who elected him or her ?

  5. Susan Reiter Says:

    I agree with Mr. Simpson’s comment–establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility (of which we’ve had little in the last 10 years), promoting the general welfare…these keys to the Constitution weren’t just airy ideals, but the collective vision of the men who crafted the Constitution.
    There are many (most notably the ‘rich’) that would prefer we ‘clear the field of the referees’ so they can tip the balance of power in their favor–much of which has already been accomplished with the blessings of the Supreme Court.
    Many notable philosophers have said of their own times that they believed their world was ‘going to hell in a hand basket’. These times are frightening and many will pray for better times, but unless these same people are willing to open their eyes and take action, we will continue down the same terrifying road until ‘We the People’ are powerless.

  6. Neal Taslitz, Esq. Says:

    My grandfather, Joseph Taslitz, who died two weeks short of his 104th birthday, in 1999, immigrated to the U.S. with his family at the age of 14, and graduated from law school at the age of 25 and worked until he was in his nineties. He often told me: “We get old too soon, and wise too late.”

    Although, it is often true that the more things change, the more they stay the same, I have come to recognize, that we stand on the shoulders of past generations, and hopefully, we learn from them. By doing so can hopefully avoid their mistakes. One only has to read the history of the Titanic, to understand an epic tragedy we are now seeing repeated in the Gulf oil spill, because of simplistic beliefs.

    Things do not “just happen” as some bumper stickers say using another word replacing “just” which I need not state here. Rather I prefer to quote Pasteur, who liked to say that chance favors the prepared mind.

    In a complex world simplicity is often the approach of people who have a short attention span and would rather learn how to draw by connected the dots, rather than using more difficult approaches or creating new ones that are better. Anything can seem simple after a very creative and bright group of people explain their solutions ot those who just follow their lead.

    The Founding Father’s did not copy the work of others, but rather used the thoughts of prior generations and many of their own to create a Constitution that required a lot more than simplistic slogans. Unfortunately, mass media and the “sound bite” has replaced creative thought during the last 50 years, and our nation needs to understand wisdom is a sign of maturity, and often takes too long to occur.

  7. Brian C. McCarthy Says:

    I suspect many of those whom you liken to John Calvin would take the comparison as a compliment.

  8. MinerSam Says:

    I hardly know where to start Mr. Hart. And wish I could sit across from you
    (and the President) for 10 minutes, since I eat and sleep “How the Democrats should be responding”..Currently on C-span-3 is Clare Booth Luce indoctrination of young people. Republican Communications operative from Fox Telling them that: “Academia is under attack, they {The evil Liberals”} are even rewriting the text books and Brainwashing Students.”

    Next to last guest is George Allan selling his book to the young. Michelle Bachman then getts an award, tells them that “for the first time ever” if
    you want a Mortgage you have to buy it from the Government (Fanny/Freddy
    Community Reinvestment act free association). “We must repeal Obama Care
    100%. No negotiation.” Socialism is not the way our country was meant to run.

    Lies piled on False premises to ignorance and
    Accusing Democrats of what they are and have been perpetuating upon us is one of their many lies as part of 2006 loss Republican PR Strategy(day after) That the Only job Republicans have going forward is “To make the Democrats look bad to their Constituants.” Microtargetting women & Jews yet another one. Telling working class people that Democrats want to give their jobs to illegal aliens (is reapeted on every radio station.

    It is a simple matter that could fill volumes:

    1) The members of electorate are busy with their lives & not psychic.
    2) Our information pipelines have carbon monoxide running through them.
    3) Together with the Republican they thrive on Ignorance & division.

    A wise Persian Teacher talked of “The 3rd force”: When 2 opposing forces exist, it takes a 3rd one to bring resolution. But Tim Russert did not believe it was his job to educate the electorate. Regarding legislation the Newshour is GOP-POV daily. CNN is a Moderate Republican station. Bob Woodward (who wouldn’t know a Mechanical Engineer, Software, Civil etc from a Mortition was outraged that Obama didn’t think of brining in Google to fix the Oil!

    Coakley said: “We cannot respond to all the crazy things Republicans say!

    Meanwhile with twitter and all the other OUT OF CONTEXT TOOLS, Sound bite syndrome is only getting worse!!!!

    Obama gets interviewed and instead of telling peopl 3 great things about Healthcare, lets interviewer control content and says that “when people experience how good health care reform is they’ll like it.

    What would I have said?

    1)Small Business will get 50% Tax credit to hire more or be more competitive.
    2)Government is largest customer of Health Care (Cost=93B a year &NOT 1Trill.
    3)Insurance companies will be required to use 85% of premiums on Care (Last year it was only 68-78%)
    4)Succesful “laboratoties” in the States (Cleavelend Clinic) being studied.

    Or how about this: REPUBLICANS WRACKED UP 10Trillon of the 12Trillion in debt we are in.”

    Problem? Democratic PR people, who lose one race after another, telling Democratic Statespeople that people do not watch the news, or pay attention details, GARBAGE WITH CRAP IN IT! They have no problem rattling off COUNTLESS REPUBLICAN BOLD FACED LIES, one after another!

    One of the ways Republicans size up their success:
    They made the case that “Objectivity is a Liberal Bias”, eliminated the Fairness Docrtine & replaced it with “Fair and ballaned you decide”
    Which I contend is where Republican Lies go unchallanged and repeated on every station! and so much more!

    Current trashing of Obama is just part of a campaign to Reinvent Bush and not wait as long as they did with Reagan.

    Consise ACCURATE FACTS to DEBUNK Republican Lies IS REQUIRED!
    Doesn’t have to be simplistic Just consise!

    “Why would you vote for someone to run an institution they hate!”

    Calling it simplistic leaves you open to the “Elite” talking Point!

    It’s about the LAZY, DEMOCRATIC PR PEOPLE Stupid (if you will)!

    Have Talking Points will travel

  9. Ken Smith Says:

    Senator Hart: One could plausibly argue that your well-known peccadilloes are the proximate cause of the current catastrophe in the Gulf; without your fall, the House of Bush could never have arisen. The phrase “simplistic boyishness” was never more apropos. And to those of us who supported you then….

    The Founding Fathers were Calvinists, who understood that people are no damn good. They created a government which took this into account, and tried their level best to prevent abuse of office. But as is always the case, corruption eventually wins out. Now, the people are accountable to government, as opposed to the other way around. This, Sir, is the hallmark of a regime.

  10. Trinity4455 Says:

    Just a quick note to say “spot on!”

  11. Michael Carmichael Says:

    Reagan led one of the most savage and brutal administrations in US history defined by his atrocious policy of corporate laissez faire and death-squad fascism for El Salvador and Latin America. Obama is attempting to alter the US-Israel relationship that has become poisonous for both nations and many more besides. Perhaps, it would be better to say Obama wants to ‘normalize’ relations with Israel, ie. shifting from the current ‘special’ relationship to one governed by international law for a change. According to the latest reports, the Netanyahu government will bow to pressure from Obama and significantly alter their outrageous and illegal blockade of Gaza in their meeting this Wednesday. While Obama has been very weak and centrist on a broad range of issues that has led to his cratering in the polls, he is bearing down on Israel as the keystone to the reform of US foreign policy that could become the major legacy of his presidency. Sadly, the Congress and the broader establishment in Washington are still deeply enamored of the Israel Lobby – much to the detriment of our deeply troubled nation – not to mention the massive global anguish at the plight of the Palestinians. I would like to see Obama replace Robert Gates with Gary Hart.

  12. Elizabeth Kinder Says:

    I dont’ fancy myself a quixotic fool (but perhaps that is merely vanity speaking). Human nature is pretty simple though. It’s not all bad, but there is well enough of it that is bad or just plain venal and petty. If there wasn’t, we’d all be living in an anarchic, communistic utopia, of our own volition. I consider myself about as left-wing as they come. But it’s not just the right that is simple-minded about human nature or reductio ad absurdum responses to that human nature. The masses are shaking their fists and pitchforks at BP, but gob-smacked at a loss to consider the oil rig workers that will be thrown out of work, on top of the shrimpers, fishermen, etc. that are already screwed, if a moratorium is called. We all hate Wall Street, and I for one won’t be happy until I have the entire upper management at an auto da fe…. but then again, I don’t really want my 401K to take a dive, do I? Oh wait, right, it’s made up of stocks and mutual funds. I really don’t see how any rational human being can embrace late-stage capitalism and a sense of righteous indignation at the same time. It’s just a little too oxymoronic for me. I have been called cynical, but as some might say, a cynic is just a realist who’s been screwed one too many times. I was too young by the merest moment to vote against Reagan, but I feel that I have been paying the price since. We all finally get ourselves together enough to have one singular moment of clarity and elect Barack Obama, but when he doesn’t pull a magic wand out of his butt and somehow by absolute fiat (if ever I wished to live under an absolute dictatorship, it really would be RIGHT NOW) solve everyone’s problems instantaneously, we are ready to run him out of town on a rail. It makes me heartsick and ashamed of a huge portion of my fellow citizens, I am very very sorry to say. But only too sadly, it’s true. We are now reaping what we have spent the last 30 year sowing, I am afraid.

  13. Van Carter Says:

    Dr. Hart,

    Your column cross-posted on the Huffington Post is indeed expository in discussing the morality of the modern American conservative movement.

    I was struck immediately, however, by something which you left unsaid in your column regarding the opinion of Jefferson and others of the framers of the Constitution on Calvin. Jefferson especially despised Calvinism calling it Daemonism and casting aspersions on its ideas of predestination.

    Concepts of original sin and the inherent evil of humanity fundamental to an understanding of Calvinism also play out in this simplistic view — humans are inherently selfish and any sort of communal or collective action which seeks to benefit the many instead of the few is impossible because humans are corrupt.

  14. Lowell Thompson Says:

    Mr. Hart,

    This is one of (if not, the) best analysis I’ve seen of the difference between Progressives and Regressives. I just don’t understand why I had to come here to make a comment, rather than on the HuffPost? Is there something I missed?

  15. Forrest Gump Says:

    Life is like and ocean full of oil. Everyone gets tarred.

  16. NelsonMn Says:

    Gary, This cynicism is real to a large swath of Dems. Every one I know thinks Republicans are dense. Let me add that in my conversations we include Constitutionalists for their single minded purpose to incite partisan ideology. I continue this list with Libertarians who do likewise. All of these play an agenda of single minded purpose.

    Republicans: No new taxes and less government. Damn the consequences.

    Constitutionalists: No taxes, no government, states rights, or they’ll rise up in revolution.

    Libertarians: What’s mine is mine, and you don’t deserve anything, so get in your place and stay there.

    Dems on the other hand; we are a hard working, well intentioned, and considerate bunch. We’ve tried to make choices which enhance our community, and our families. We desire excellent schools, healthcare, parks, infrastructure, business growth, etc…. However it is painfully clear that the cynicism which is released by you (Mr. Hart) is actually working very well to sabotage any Dem effort. That to me is a loud and clear indictment to our leaders. We obviously have weak-kneed, lilly-livered twerps running our show. It’s enough to make a man piss vinegar.

    I’ve grown very angry this past year. The reason is I spent nearly all of last year attempting to garner insight into what makes a neocon, rightwing, wingnut, dittohead conservative tick. I read hundreds of columns at Town Hall dot com. I wrote our POTUS (Obama) notes about some very visceral ad hominem attacks, which stated a desire he be harmed. I wrote to Slate, I wrote to ABC dot com, I wrote to BBC dot com, I wrote to Paul Krugman and some other economists. The writing was to instill in them that there is a storm brewing, a visceral, nasty and destructive storm. It’s label is conservative. I’ve known this since Reagan’s days. I didn’t want him POTUS, I didn’t want either Bush and Clinton was made impotent by the designs of Newt Gingrich. I can’t stand Newt Gingrich. Add to that list Carl Rove, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Bill Kristol, and all of those with the PNAC. You know who I mean, or I’ve wasted my time here.

    Our Dem leadership is being culled by the trump card of Conservative media. They’ve made their mantra “The American People” and every one of you out there lack insight to see how volatile it is to allow this kind of usurp to continue. The lunacy of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh goes unabated with lies and misinformation. The articles on Town Hall dot com go on and on and on, unanswered by leadership. It’s as if ignoring them they’ll go away. No, they wont, their success is because our leaders ignore them. We have to fight back.

  17. Darrel Kent (Denver) Says:

    I can’t begin to tell you how much I enjoy these posts. Great insight and well thought out positions and comments.

    This one gets right to the core fallacy of our conservative cousins.

    Nice job.

  18. Gene Case Says:

    You are exactly right–this oversimplification is precisely what is driving the Palin syndrome which is an extension of the Bush syndrome that preceded it. The Bush presidency represented the end of democracy in the U.S.–a bloodless coup engineered by the handmaidens of the Plutocracy. No candidate for president can be elected without their blessing. This was again demonstrated by the support from the financial industry to Obama during the 2008 election and he has proven that their investment was not ill spent. Now corporations are more easily able to influence elections, again, thanks to the actions of a hyper-partisan Supreme Court. Fluff ads that oversimplify and distort will, to an even greater extent, influence the outcome of future elections and democratic elections will be an increasingly quaint delusion. The trivialization of complex issues and massive wealth will continue to be a winning combination that will allow the continuance of the corporate stranglehold on the U.S.

  19. John Lewallen Says:

    Mr. Hart, this is some of the best analysis I’ve seen on what separates conservatives from liberals. I found myself saying, “Yes, yes!” throughout the entire article. I too believe conservative individuals are drawn to that way of thinking because they have such a simplistic view of just about everything. Although, I must say, I am not certain you could call someone who is politically and socially conservative “a thinker.”

    My deepest concern is how do we stem the tide of this simplistic and selfish thinking? Money seems one of their only values and that is a powerful foe. And the fear of change that right-wing pundits continually whip-up keeps the conservative masses angry and aggressive.

    We need real leadership now. I don’t plan on giving up but the uphill climb is a staggering burden.

  20. Gary Hart Says:

    Thanks to all, especially Ms. Kinder, for your comments. I want to make sure NelsonMn is not characterizing my opinions as cynical. They are not meant to be. And in response to Mr. Thompson, I wish to explain that HuffingtonPost has been generous enough to post these blogs as a means of generating awareness of the (relatively new) Mattersofprinciple site in the hopes that comments would be posted here.
    Thanks to all.

  21. LonestarJR Says:

    Not all conservatives embrace a simplistic viewpoint. Some of them merely pretend to believe these things as a means of exploiting the truly simplistic. Any discussion of the Right and its players eventually comes to consideration of this key question: Is the right-winger being discussed a charlatan or a fool? Sarah Palin is intriguing to us precisely because she seems a combination of the two, which combination was heretofore thought impossible. When she calls being asked about which are the Supreme Court decisions with which she takes such issue an “ambush” and when she refers to being asked what periodicals she reads as a “gotcha question,” she is almost certainly being a charlatan. When she speaks of being able to glimpse Russian soil from parts of Alaska as foreign policy experience, I suspect she is fool enough to believe it.

    In an era when bounty hunters, exterminators, meter maids and “Real” Housewives become celebrities, she has replaced Kato Kalin as the prototype Manufactured Celebrity, made prominent by an association with a real celebrity. Her Sponsor, for lack of a better term, was John McCain; Kato’s was O. J. Simpson. It is probably just coincidental that both Messrs. McCain and Simpson are manifestly unfit to be POTUS.

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