Wednesday, April 25, 2007

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The Jonathan Rauch interview

Let me join Andrew Sullivan and Virginia Postrel in linking to this Reason interview with National Jounal columnist Jonathan Rauch. Uneknownst to him, Rauch is partly responsible for the creation of this blog.

Two parts of the interview that stand out. The first reflects Rauch's spot-on take on government:

[R]ight-sizing government, if you mean imposing some preconceived size that you or I or someone else might have, is impossible. Impossible, probably inconceivable and simply not going to happen ever.

When you get right down to it, there doesn't seem to be really much of a constituency in this country for reducing the size of government in painful or unpleasant ways. Even Barry Goldwater, when he ran for president, announced that he wouldn't cut any farm subsidies, for example.

Government is an enormous ecosystem. It is, in its way, as decentralized and unmanageable as the ecosystem out there in nature. You can change the input and you'll get some change in the output, but if I've learned one thing in 25 years in Washington, it's that there far too many interests and actors for any politician to do more than work the margins. But working the margins is very, very important.

In fact, it can be the difference between having a static and enfeebling government--like the government of Japan was until comparatively recently, until the Koizumi period--and a government that gets out of the way enough so that you have room for new technology, new ideas, and some reform.

The second reflects Rauch's wariness of blog triumphalism:
I'm not a fan of the idea that the journalist and the journalist's attitude should be front and center. I think that a good journalist's duty is to get out of the way. The hardest thing about journalism--the hardest thing, a much higher art than being clever--is just to get out of the way, to show the leader of the world as the reader would see it if the reader were there. Just to be eyes and ears. Calvin Trillin, another writer I greatly admired who steered me towards journalism, once said that getting himself out of his stories was like taking off a very tight shirt in a very small phone booth. He's right.

I think Maureen Dowd is very good at what she does. But the problem is that lots of people who aren't any good at it think this is journalism. It's what we should all be doing, showing off our attitude. I think that sets a bad example. The blogosphere tends to further the [notion] that journalism is about opinion and not about fact. I think that's wrong.

Most people think they know truth and think that what they know is right. They're usually wrong. Journalists are among the few people in society who are actually paid to try go out and learn things. Checking is the core of what we do. David Broder once said that the old slogan in journalism is, "If your mother says she loves you, check it."

Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan on 04.25.07 at 03:20 PM


Unfortunately we've got a ticking timebomb in entitlements that is going to make it impossible to ignore the size of government. Either the holiest of the holy, social security gets mucked with significantly, or the house of cards tumbles down. And it will happen in the most prolonged and destructive way- raising taxes enormously which will push us into a spiral of negative growth and recession.

If it wasnt so serious, i'd be fascinated just to see how the next 20 years are going to play out. Western style governments always gravitate towards redistributing wealth from the rich to the middle class- with occasional corruption ridden projects getting to the poor, and even more rarely a truly effective program to benefit the people its billed to benefit. There is going to be a political civil war between middle class baby boomers who want to glom their 30 year retirements on the golf course and in Florida condos against everybody with a job. We are about to see the absurd situation where the young and struggling trying to start families are drowned in debt by the old and relatively wealthy.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 04.25.07 at 03:20 PM [permalink]

"The second reflects Dowd's wariness of blog triumphalism"

You mean Rauch's.

posted by: Pejman Yousefzadeh on 04.25.07 at 03:20 PM [permalink]

Dowd is good at what she does? Then what she does isn't good.

posted by: huggy on 04.25.07 at 03:20 PM [permalink]

"Dowd is good at what she does? Then what she does isn't good."

That was exactly the point I took away from this statement.

posted by: arr-squared on 04.25.07 at 03:20 PM [permalink]

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