The lesson of Massachusetts: all politics is local only during times of domestic tranquility, but at truly defining moments, all politics is ideological. Tuesday night, finally, in Massachusetts the battle turned from politics to ideology, a confrontation we had successfully avoided since the Civil War. While politicians dithered over details such as who would or would not pay taxes on Cadillac health plans (have you driven a Cadillac lately?), the people grasped the deeper issue.
The Enlightenment and religious reformations that swept Europe following the Renaissance threw out the old existing orders, and the great debate began between two acutely different variants of what constituted their proper replacement. The Anglo-Saxons concerned themselves with “the rights of men,” and the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and our own magnificent uprising of 1776 affirmed the notion of individual rights derived from a higher power than man. The logical consequence of this was the notion of equity: that the public official might do only that which was explicitly permitted by law while the private citizen was empowered to act in any way that was not explicitly forbidden.
This idea, which dated back to the Magna Carta of 1215, was fine-tuned in the 17th and 18th centuries by insisting the governed had a right to consent to laws that inhibited their freedom.
The Europeans, on the other hand, preferred to think in terms of “the rights of man.” The movement from plural to singular is important for now individual freedoms would be determined by a collective will, a “social compact” that would predetermine what was good and just for everybody. So while Anglo-Saxons depended on “enlightened self-interest,” the Europeans felt the need to legislate virtue.
America was born as the former. But a corrupt academy, a narcissistic underpaid media (all of whom slavishly worshiped the Europeans), and a century-and-a-half of immigration brought the collectivist view into the American mainstream. The health care debate is not really about who should be covered, but about taking decisions that were once the responsibility of the individual and turning them over to the collective.
Although born long after the Civil War, I have lived through this struggle before. In the 1960s, Pierre Trudeau took Canada, then a country of self-reliant, broad-shouldered, rugged individualists, and by sheer force of political magnetism, transformed it into a post-modern society, a European clone of overtaxed politically correct worrywarts subject to heavy taxes designed to redistribute wealth. For a long time, it was a winning formula that even conservatives found seductive. After all, as George Bernard Shaw observed, if you rob Peter to pay Paul you can most certainly count on Paul’s vote. It took almost a half a century for Stephen Harper to reawaken Canadians’ sense of self-respect and begin the first faltering steps toward dismantling the monstrosity that Trudeaupian liberals had created.
It appears the voters of Massachusetts required a mere 11 months and 28 days.
The first shots of our terrible civil war were fired in Kansas in the late 1850s and ultimately the ideological rift between the legalisms of the pro-slavery faction and the moral imperative of the Free Soilers eliminated all other items from the political agenda. It was only when this ideological chasm was acknowledged that we were able to confront our reality and come to terms with what had to be done. One of the important lessons to be learned is not to let such fissures fester until they can only be solved by a bloody and atrocious war of brother against brother.
The tea party movement led the way in defining the difference between themselves and the current administration as one nourished by the issue of personal freedom, not who should be responsible for paying insurance premiums for the poor. We all want the latter, but many of us believe it can be accomplished without surrendering the former.
The collectivist view that favors the rights of man over the rights of men has historically given rise to gruesome collectivization. It’s worth noting that names such as Stalin, Hitler, Lenin, and Mussolini are not to be found in the political histories of societies that embraced the British notion of democracy (and it is British, not English, as the enormous number of Scottish spokesmen for freedom will attest), and that leaders such as Pelosi and Waxman and Frank and Reid and, no doubt, Obama himself seem unable to imagine any aspect of private life which they, as benighted rulers, may not regulate and constrain should be no surprise. They are infected with an alien philosophy that holds too much of Europe and, it seems, all the United Nations in its thrall. But it is alien to us.
So surely the lesson of the Massachusetts election is not that it is a Republican victory or a “bad” Democratic campaign or spontaneous undirected anger, but rather that in a moment of sudden clarity millions of American voters rediscovered their ideology. You must follow their lead. This is not a time for compromise or patching over differences. It is a historic moment to be grasped by those of us who believe in individual freedoms of the rights of men — both here and overseas. In the words of the Marxist-Leninists, “heighten the contradictions.” The American left is not merely misguided. It is fatally flawed. It is to be resisted.
If the American voter is reminded that all politics is ideology this dreadful mess will soon be behind us.