We Need Cynics

Starting today, I’m part of The Week magazine’s new online Bullpen, where I’ll be joining David Frum, Bob Shrum, Brad Delong, Daniel Larison and several others as a regular columnist. Here’s my inaugural effort, discussing Obama’s inaugural and defending the idea that we’ll all be best off if we don’t just roll over for popular presidents in times of crisis. It starts like this….

By late September of 2001, George W. Bush was the most popular president of modern times. The tragic shock of 9/11 awakened a sense of patriotism, common purpose, and deference to government entirely new to Americans who came of age after Nixon. The President displayed comforting steel in the wake of the terrifying attack. He was a uniter, not a divider. And never in recent memory have Americans been so united. Congress trembled in the face of Bush’s mighty approval ratings. Nor was the media eager to gainsay the national mood. 

And so it was that America gave Bush most of what he asked for. In return we got Iraq, crushing budget deficits, waterboarding, the ire of the world, and, finally, collapsing financial markets. It’s not what we had in mind. 

Maybe it would have been better had we been less united, had we been more skeptical of grand plans, had more of us pushed back when so many of us pushed forward in the same direction.  …

Check it out, and please let me know what you think!

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Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center