Turned back by force, not turning back by choice.

In his column today, Michael Gerson wrote a disheveled mess on our society’s improvement, allegedly at the hands of government and morals.

On cultural issues, conservatives have been ambushed by hope. …

We’ve had 8 years of hope and 7 years of compassion from our government. The primary results we have to show for it: oral sex in the Oval Office, a never-ending war based on lies, discriminatory laws and amendments, torture by Americans, and a national debt that grows by $500,000,000,000 per year. I’ll accept the word “ambushed”, although we should know better by now. But I’d nix the nonsense about “hope” and government policy.

Still, there’s no amount of change that Gerson can’t attribute to hope expressed through government:

First, societies can, over time, recognize their own self-destructive tendencies and reassert old norms — not just arresting decline but even reversing it. Many Americans, for example, have seen the damaging effects of divorce on children — sometimes from the firsthand perspective of their own childhoods — and divorce rates, especially among upper-income couples, have fallen. …

I’d like to see his data on this. Does staying in a bad marriage harm children? Is it all about the children, or about the sanctity of marriage? Argue either, but don’t mix the two without admitting as much. Rather than seeing divorce rates decline because we’ve seen the harm it does to children, it requires an easier assumption that the age when individuals get married suggests that they’re more mature and developed into people who understand themselves and can co-exist in a stable relationship. Correlation is not causation.

Gerson continues:

… Over the decades the social wreckage of drug use has become undeniable — and the social judgment on this practice has shifted from “stylish rebellion” to “suicidal idiocy.” In many cases, our culture has benefited from the natural healing mechanism of simple sanity¹.

It’s also undeniable that much of the social wreckage is a direct result of government action against drug use, not the drug use itself. The blame does not rest entirely with the user. Surely the moralizer can accept his share.

Also, among my peers, drug use, particularly marijuana, is not seen as stylish rebellion or suicidal idiocy. It’s seen as fun and harmless, a conclusion derived from multiple experiences. I have not tried any recreational drug, as I’ve written before. I don’t even drink. But I understand that my preference isn’t necessarily everyone else’s.

Still, hope overcomes:

Wehner and Levin find that the law of unintended consequences, unlike the law of gravity, admits large exceptions.

Stop and re-read that sentence. I have no doubt that Gerson wins the Internets’ “Stupidest Statement of the Day” award.

What Wehner and Levin actually wrote in their essay, “Crime, Drugs, Welfare — and Other Good News“, the basis for Gerson’s argument²:

There will always be unintended consequences, but even these need not always be for the worse, and the prospect of such unintended consequences should not paralyze us from taking action.

Unintended consequences can be positive. I don’t think there’s any half-intelligent person who would deny this. But they are unintended. Gerson seems so determined to enact government solutions that he’s willing to pretend that it’s possible to design perfect government policies – with only lollipops and rainbows – if we just have enough hope about what government can do. The mere suggestion is absurd but more so the practice, as evidenced by the handiwork of politicians throughout history.

There’s a name for Gerson’s essay: the Care Bear Stare.

¹ Gerson should be a little more consistent about the “healing mechanism of simple sanity”. I recall him actively embracing insanity in June.

² Unlike Gerson, Wehner and Levin seem to place less emphasis on government’s role, noting that the declining divorce rate only appears among the well-educated, upper-income couples. Gerson’s logic implies that poorer people with less education don’t care about the harm to their children. No doubt, he can think of a government program or twenty that might fix that.

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