To all those who think they know how this election is going to come out, and what our world will look like in the near or long future, I have some advice: don’t bet whatever’s left of your farm. I’ve seen a fair amount of real change so far in my brief lifetime, and I’m an historian to boot, so I’ve studied a lot more of it. And the bottom line is that life has always been full of surprises. I’ve seen a lot of sure things come up losers, and I’ve seen the opposite.
Look at American politics: the two candidates are both highly unlikely. A year ago, nobody would have been confident that we’d have Obama vs McCain. Hillary was a sure thing, and Giuliani was just waiting around until the South and New York confirmed his candidacy. It’s easy now to look back and “explain” that Obama and McCain were inevitable, but they weren’t.
Ask W. about surprises, why don’t you? He came to Washington with a “realist” foreign policy, bound and determined to avoid entangling foreign alliances and adventures. The core of his political vision was domestic, certainly not international. And you know the rest of the story.
Look at the current financial crisis. I don’t think most people, including Nobel Prize winning economists, have more than an educated hunch about the true dimensions of the problems. I spent several hours this week with some of the smartest guys on and around Wall Street. Every one of them said he had only a guess about the dimensions, but he was sure it was in the tens of trillions of dollars, worldwide. If that is right, a “fix” that amounts to several hundred billion, or even a trillion or two, is, as he put it, “popcorn.” The consensus of these smart guys: this crisis will come in waves, we will try various solutions to each wave, eventually find one that works, then calm down for a while, and then face the next wave. Or not. Maybe the first-wave-solution will actually do the trick. Nobody really knows, they are all guessing.
So I’ve pretty much stopped reading the analyses. Obviously I dread what is coming, which is bigger and bigger government, much more regulation (yes, I know that regulation is a big contributor to the crisis, but any historian worth his Ph.D. will tell you that crises always produce bigger government, and we’ve got a double crisis now: the war, which will bite us again some day, maybe even tomorrow morning, and the economy. So governments will become more assertive, and most people want that. The Europeans have wanted it ever since their last “heroic” spasm, which was World War II and the various totalitarianisms. They have long since turned over their lives to their office-holders.
Given my ongoing worry about mass movements, I keep looking for one here. Much as I detest Obama, I do not yet see him as the leader of an anti-democratic mass movement. He may want that–I take very seriously his ongoing friendships with radical leftists–but I don’t see the movement. Yet. I hope not to see it, obviously, but I’ll keep looking for it. I don’t see how an anti-American ideology can capture the American people; it’s too counter-intuitive for me.
But we’re living in explosive times. As I’ve said from time to time, most every balloon of significance is up in the air right now. And that makes our world fundamentally unpredictable. All we can do is work as hard as we can to preserve our values, and hope that we will prevail.
Or not. But t’was ever thus. And that’s the way we want it, n’est-ce pas?