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Will: Progressives have a Republican soulmate in the Senate. His name is Josh Hawley.

Will: Progressives have a Republican soulmate in the Senate. His name is Josh Hawley.

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Cartoon for Nov. 21, 2021 Will column

Never have so many in Washington been so eager to expand government’s responsibilities in so many ways. No federal official, however, has an agenda of government enlargement as ambitious and comprehensive as that of Missouri’s freshman Republican senator. Josh Hawley’s bipartisanship invites progressives to share the fun of making government greater than ever.

Regarding current supply chain difficulties, Hawley says (as former presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren was wont to say) that he has a plan for that. Writing last month in The New York Times, which finds such thinking congenial, Hawley said the federal government should permanently micromanage U.S. trade. Mimicking progressives, who advocate “transformative” policies for this and that, Hawley wants Washington to “fundamentally restructure” trade policy, which he apparently considers dangerously friendly to freedom.

The global trading system powered the astonishing enlargement of post-1945 U.S. prosperity. Hawley, however, believes the system is a “failure” because supply problems have accompanied the pandemic.

He wants government, which is politics straight through, to decide what products are “critical for our national security and essential for the protection of our industrial base,” and to require that they have more than 50% of their value made in America. Imagine the ocean of crony capitalism that would surround decisions about what is “critical” and “essential,” and what implicates “national security,” and what counts as the “industrial base.”

When in 2005 a U.S. firm considered buying Danone, the French yogurt manufacturer, the protectionism of the horrified French political class generated jokes about “strategic yogurt.” Are Americans capable of comparable nonsense? Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., says sugar import quotas, which cost consumers more than $2 billion a year but enrich some Rubio contributors, are crucial for “food security.”

But don’t worry. Vastly expanded legions of bureaucrats, from the departments of defense, commerce and elsewhere, will make the many thousands of distinctions that Hawley, a selective critic of government’s competence, wants Washington to make.

Hawley’s proposal for a gigantic increase in government’s fine-tuning of the economy comes at a moment when inflation reveals, redundantly, government’s inability to even preserve the currency as a store of value. Hawley can, however, cite a 50-year-old Republican precedent for his plan: His would be the largest infusion of government into the private sector since 1971 — since President Richard Nixon’s shambolic wage and price controls.

Hawley, like many progressives, also advocates social engineering by activist government to solve gender-related problems. He has a plan for protecting American manliness. He sensibly worries that men are working and marrying less, fathering fewer children, and experiencing more anxiety and depression. As a cure, however, he offers his usual passion: radically increased government control of the economy.

While deploring “the victim mind-set,” he says that “over the last 30 years and more” men have been victims of free trade. This, he says, has left domestic manufacturing, which he implies is an incubator of manliness, “all but dead.” Well.

For more than 70 years the manufacturing sector’s share of real gross domestic product has varied within a narrow band — above 11%, below 14%. Granted, manufacturing employment as a percentage of total employment has declined, but largely because the productivity of manufacturing workers has dramatically increased, a development that Hawley, a strange champion of the working man, might regret.

But facts cannot dampen Hawley’s economic determinism, which validates his advocacy of socialism as patriotism and gender rehabilitation. He embraces Theodore Roosevelt’s conception of “business as an adjunct to manhood,” and wants government to — again, he echoes progressivism’s vocabulary of astonishing government competence — “rebuild” the economy so “men can thrive.”

As a presidential candidate, Elizabeth Warren said: “Break up big tech.” Concerning his new book, “The Tyranny of Big Tech,” Hawley, displaying what could be called “the victim mind-set,” says: “This is a book the corporate monopolies did not want you to read. Corporate America tried to cancel it, just as they have tried to cancel me.” Hawley has somehow survived, and his book’s message is, of course: Break up big tech.

Big tech is, however, not nearly as big as the government that Hawley wants to wield against companies that have become big by pleasing many scores of millions of Americans. Hawley, like many progressives, thinks Americans need to be protected from the companies by a paternalistic government.

He vaulted to prominence with his Jan. 6 fist-pump showing solidarity with the mob hours before it assaulted the U.S. Capitol. But forgive his hurrying to jump to the head of many parades. In a fellow eighth-grader’s yearbook, young Josh signed himself: “President 2024.”

Will is a columnist for The Washington Post Writers Group.

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