It was obvious during the runup to the Iraq war that what was going on in the minds of many hawks — and not just the neocons — was not so much a deep desire to drop lots of bombs and kill lots of people (although they were OK with that) as a deep desire to be seen as people who were willing to Do What Has to be Done. Men who have never risked, well, anything relished the chance to look in the mirror and see Winston Churchill looking back.
Actually, I suspect that even the torture thing had less to do with sadism than with the desire to look tough.
And the austerian impulse is pretty much the same thing, except that in this case the mild-mannered pundits want to look in the mirror and see Paul Volcker.
War is manly, austerity is manly. Sanctions and inspections are for girls and wimps; Keynesianism is literally a homo theory.
Perhaps the world was ever so, perhaps we’re going through a particular crisis of masculinity, what with castrating Madame Speakers and an male aging population that (if NFL ads are any indication) often has trouble getting the old Evinrude cranking. Media and political types are likely to frame their misguided machisimo in terms of seriousness and historical importance. Here’s a classic quote (from serious person Jonathan Alter about his old Crimson buddy, neocon heroin addict Eric Breindel):
“We missed the war to save the world, and we even missed the civil-rights movement. We didn’t get our chance to be heroic. We were left with the table scraps. But Eric, at least, was determined to make those scraps the most nourishing and the most useful meal he could.”
It’s about feeding their inner tough guy, not doing something for the outside world.