But when that cohort proves inarticulate, or itself succumbs to greed and self-interest, or abandons its principles for short-term political expediency, then the bridle (to use a Greek metaphor) is lost. And the people are free to follow their natural inclinations. The results are often predictable soaring entitlements, populist them/us rhetoric, unsustainable debt, inflation, redistribution of income, and an unraveling of the social contract between the classes.
Once conservatives could not balance budgets, close borders, win wars or at least explain why they should be fought, then the country was bound to have one of its ‘once every thirty-years’ flings with radicalism. And as usually happens (cf. FDR and Jimmy Carter), we saw a radical progressive on the campaign trail sounding like a new conservative/liberal—as a mechanism once elected to enact radical social and political change unimagined by the electorate.
Our New Cleon
So the Bush-era inability to articulate positions, to balance budgets, to explain what we were doing in Iraq, to admonish Wall Street grandees to slow it down a bit, translated into Obamism. By 2008, we did not wish to hear the surge finally worked and Iraq with it, that Bush gave billions to African AIDs relief, worked with allies, ran a clean government, and kept us safe from terrorist attacks for seven years. No, the country was angry for his lapses and was ripe for a Cleon right out of Aristophanes. And so again, we got Obama. And now the American public belatedly learns that the reaction to Bush is not balanced budgets, careful clear exegesis, but rather the Hollywood alternative of cap-and-trade, enormous tax increases, soaring deficits, nationalized health care, a general attitude that “they” owe “us,” and Europe is our model.
So we are experiencing a catharsis of sort. And, let us pray, for the next thirty years we will learn that if a candidate has no executive experience, had a history of eliminating his senatorial rivals through leaked divorce records, was the most partisan of some 100 Senators in his brief two-year tenure, had a disturbing affinity for radical anti-Americans like Rev. Wright and Bill Ayers, then he really was ruthless, largely inexperienced, and not at all convinced that America has ever been an exceptional nation.
So Where Are We?
We must remember that America is a naturally rich country. We inherited a lavish infrastructure. Our Constitution is singular. We largely solved the problem of a multi-racial, multi-religious society not devolving into the Balkans, Rwanda, or Iraq. Our higher education in the sciences is superb. American individualism is a magnet that draws kindred spirits the world over. Our military is 19th-century in its patriotic outlook, and 21st century in its competence. So the fumes of America are strong and can keep us fueled for a long time.
But like it or not, at some future date, we will lose what we inherited if we keep borrowing trillions. At some point racial identity politics will result in factionalism. No country can survive with open borders. An educational system that is therapeutic rather than knowledge-based will result in that terrible combination of an arrogant and ignorant electorate that becomes a mockery on the world stage.
And the Alternative Is?
The Republicans so far have not offered any alternative for Obamism. They need to craft a plan that shows us how we are to be balancing budgets in 24 months, and paying down the debt in 36. Federal spending must be frozen immediately at the rate of inflation, before being reduced. Americans must invest more and consume less. Critics must offer a plan to save Social Security and Medicare from themselves, and make health care more competitive and perhaps more cash-based. It is time to end federal subsidization of identity politics. The border should close now, before the thorny consequences of its thirty-years laxity are even addressed.
We have been in far, far worse predicaments before. In the late 1930s the unemployment rate was still hovering at 25%. Pearl Harbor revealed that we were ill-equipped to fight the Japanese, much less Hitler-controlled Europe as well. We all but disarmed in 1946-7 only to face massive communist threats in Europe and Asia. In June 1950, Americans were almost obliterated in Korea, and then again lost all that had been won in late 1950—only to recover by spring 1951.
So I remain optimistic that the resilience and good sense of Americans remain. They are waking up to their year-long somnolence, and beginning to see that Obamism is not what they bought into. Democrats, especially those from purple states and counties, are fearing that Obamism has not only the potential to fail, but to take them down with it.
The next six months are critical, both at home and abroad.