Tag Archives: intellectual elites

The Think Tank Culture of Washington

On Monday I attended and gave a presentation at the one-day annual conference of the Center for New American Security (CNAS) in Washington, D.C., in conjunction with the space policy paper I am writing for them, Exploring Space in the 21st Century.

CNAS was founded ten years ago by two political Washington insiders, one a Democrat and the other a Republican, with a focus on foreign policy and defense issues and the central goal of encouraging bi-partisan discussion. For this reason their policy papers cover a wide range of foreign policy subjects, written by authors from both political parties. The conference itself probably had about 1,000 attendees from across the political spectrum, most of whom seemed to me to be part of the Washington establishment of policy makers, either working for elected officials, for various executive agencies, or for one of the capital’s many think tanks, including CNAS.

I myself was definitely not a major presenter at this conference, with speakers like Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), and Senator Joe Reed (D-Rhode Island). I was part of a panel during one of the lunch breakout sessions, where approximately one third of the attendees came to have lunch while we spoke about space. I only had ten minutes to speak, and used that time to outline (1) the influence SpaceX is having on the entire launch industry and (2) the vast differences in cost, development time, and results between the Orion/SLS program and commercial space. Not surprisingly, the aerospace people from the big established companies appeared to be somewhat uncomfortable with what I had to say, though the Airbus people liked it when I made it clear I thought that the U.S. should allow foreign companies to compete for American business, including government launches.

Their discomfort was best illustrated by the one question asked of me following my talk, where the questioner said that I was comparing apples to oranges in comparing a manned capsule like Orion, intended to go beyond Earth orbit, with the unmanned cargo capsules like Dragon and Cygnus, that only go to ISS. I countered that though I recognized these differences, I also recognized that the differences were really not as much as the industry likes to imply, as demonstrated for example by SpaceX’s announcement that they plan to send Dragon capsules to Mars beginning in 2018. After all, a capsule is still only a capsule. The differences simply did not explain the gigantic differences in cost and development time.

I added that Orion compares badly with Apollo as well, noting that Apollo took about a third as long to build and actually cost less. I doubt I satisfied this individual’s objections, but in the end I think future policy will be decided based on results, not the desires of any one industry bigwig. And in this area Orion/SLS has some serious problems. I hope when my policy paper is released in August it will have some influence in determining that future policy.

My overall impression of CNAS, the speakers, and the people who attended was somewhat mixed. Having lived in the Washington, D.C. area from 1998 to 2011, when I attended many such conferences, I found that things haven’t changed much in the last five years. Superficially, everyone was dressed in formal business suits (something you see less and less elsewhere), and they also got to eat some fancy food at lunch.

On a deeper level my impressions were also mixed.
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Another American expresses his anger

The rage builds: “So I’d like to ask the Fed, is it that you just hate the working class here in America and thus like to torment them or are you truly that stuck up your own asses that you just cannot see the light?”

Read it all. I don’t agree with his perspective entirely, but I do agree that the elite of this country are increasingly ignoring the wishes of the general public, for their own gain and to the detriment of everyone else. If they don’t stop this behavior soon, they are going to find this rage coming back to bite them, and that bite is going to hurt everyone very badly.

Some reasons to panic

And those reasons have less to do with actual problems and more to do with the incompetence of our culture’s intellectual leadership.

Over the last few years the divergence between what the government promises and what it delivers, between what it says is happening or will happen and what actually is happening and does happen, between what it determines to be important and what the public wishes to be important—this gap has become abysmal, unavoidable, inescapable. We hear of “lone-wolf” terrorism, of “workplace violence,” that if you like your plan you can keep your plan. We are told that Benghazi was a spontaneous demonstration, that al Qaeda is on the run, that the border is secure as it has ever been, that Assad must go, that I didn’t draw a red line, the world drew a red line, that the IRS targeting of Tea Party groups involved not a smidgen of corruption, that the Islamic State is not Islamic. We see the government spend billions on websites that do not function, and the VA consign patients to death by waiting list and then cover it up. We are assured that Putin won’t invade; that the Islamic State is the jayvee team of terrorism; that Bowe Bergdahl served with honor and distinction; that there is a ceasefire between Ukraine and Russia.

While the public remains pro-Israel, our government negotiates with Israel’s enemies. While the public wants to reduce immigration, the preeminent legislative objective of both parties is a bill that would increase it. While the public is uninterested in global warming, while costly regulations could not pass a filibuster-proof Democratic Senate, while the scientific consensus behind the green agenda is, at the very least, fraying, the president says that climate change is the greatest threat to the United States. While Americans tell pollsters their economic situation has not improved, and that things are headed in the wrong direction—while even Democratic economists acknowledge the despondent state of the middle class—the president travels to Chicago to celebrate his economic recovery.

These disjunctions and confusions, these missteps, scandals, and miscalculations, have hurt Obama’s approval numbers. They endanger the Democratic Senate majority, contribute to the widespread sense of disorder and decay, shatter trust in government and in public institutions. They have put into stark relief a political class dominated by liberal partisans, captured by ideas and interests removed from those of ordinary Americans. The stories of ineptitude or malfeasance that appear in the daily newspaper are more than examples of high ideals executed poorly. They are examples of the pursuit of ideas—of equality and diversity and progress and centralization and environmentalism and globalization—to absurd and self-destructive limits. [emphasis mine]

Read the whole essay, as I couldn’t have said it better. The incompetence of our intellectual partisan liberal elite, more consumed with pie-in-the-sky leftwing agendas than the real world around them, has become downright frightening. The sooner the general public rejects them, wholly and completely, illustrated by a landslide election, the sooner our society can get back to the business of dealing with the increasingly deadly problems of the real world.

The modern leftwing disconnect from reality.

The modern leftwing disconnect from reality.

[L]ast week a man called Floyd Corkins shot another man called Leo Johnson, the security guard at the Family Research Council, a “conservative” group, according to the muted media coverage, or a “hate group,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, who spray that term around like champagne on a NASCAR podium. Mr. Corkins, an “LGBT volunteer,” told his victim, “I don’t like your politics.” In his backpack, he had one box of ammunition and 15 Chick-fil-A sandwiches. Had he had one Chick-fil-A sandwich and 15 boxes of ammunition, he might have done more damage. Or then again perhaps not, given that, as bloggers Kathy Shaidle and “the Phantom” pointed out, he reached his target and then started “monologuing,” as they say in The Incredibles….

I’m not blaming Floyd Corkins’s actions on the bullying twerps at the Southern Poverty Law Center or those thug Democrat mayors who tried to run Chick-fil-A out of Boston and Chicago. But I do think he’s the apotheosis of narcissistic leftist myopia. He symbolizes that exhaustion of the other possibilities — the dwindling down of latter-day liberalism to ever more self-indulgent distractions from the hard truths of a broke and ruined landscape. Our elites have sunk into a boutique decadence of moral preening entirely disconnected from reality: A non-homophobic chicken in every pot, an abortifacient dispenser in every Catholic university, a high-speed-rail corridor between every two bankrupt California municipalities.

Read the whole thing. Steyn once again notes the bankruptcy of modern liberalism and the Democratic Party, which — unless the American public rejects it — will lead to the bankruptcy of our country and probably the world.