Barack Obama has a curious definition of "non-ideological." He's insisting on bipartisan support for a stimulus package that will cost more than anything Uncle Sam has ever bought, save perhaps for victory over the Axis powers. He says he wants "to put good ideas ahead of the old ideological battles" and doesn't care whether they come from Republicans or Democrats. But he also says that "only government" can pull us out of this crisis.
It's like Henry Ford's line that you could buy any color car you wanted, as long as you wanted black. Obama is interested in any idea, as long as its peddler starts from the same "non-ideological" assumption that government experts know best.
In fairness to Obama, there is a huge consensus around the notion that government must do, well, something -- something big. Conservative economists such as Harvard's Martin Feldstein support a stimulus package. Heck, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell passes for a fiscal conservative these days because he opposes any bill of more than $1 trillion.
It's the consensus that scares me. Chin-stroking moderates and passionate centrists often glorify consensus to the point where they sound like it's better to be wrong in a group than to be right alone -- an example of ideological dogmatism as bad as any.
Obviously, consensus can be good. But it also can lead to dangerous groupthink. Everyone knew that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Everyone at "60 Minutes" knew those memos about George W. Bush and the Texas Air National Guard had to be right. Everyone knows everything is right, until everything goes wrong. If that's not one of the great lessons of the financial collapse of 2008, I don't know what is.
Last fall, the smartocracy said the Treasury Department had to be given $700 billion for the Troubled Asset Relief Program because the government had to buy all that bad paper right away. Since then, Treasury has bought no toxic assets, done nothing to help with foreclosures and, a congressional report released Friday revealed, can't adequately explain what it did with the first $350 billion.
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