Headlines saying the UK is cutting half a million government jobs and slashing welfare are running alongside stories describing street battles in France over plans to increase the retirement age. “Teams of riot police carried out dawn raids to free France’s oil depots on Wednesday as industry said the strikes against pension reforms were costing them at least £100 million per day.” The cuts will save Britain a paltry 81 billion pounds over four years. Even if the French government succeeds, it will only raise “the minimum retirement age by two years to 62 and the age for a full pension to 67, moves that would put France in line with other Group of Seven nations.”
Six out of ten Frenchmen oppose the pension changes and the outcry in Britain is certain to be loud and anguished. The scale of conflicts required to achieve relatively minor cuts in state employment and entitlements has prompted Paul Watson to ask, “How will Americans react when the government begins to impose the same austerity measures that are causing riots, street battles, fuel blockades and other assorted chaos in France? Will we witness mass civil unrest or will the sleeping middle classes continue to scratch their butts and watch Dancing with the Stars?”
Nobody is betting on Dancing with the Stars. Even Time magazine is spooked. Stephen Gandel recently examined the possibility Americans may resort to a “civil war” if the Fed goes through with its plans to support government spending by printing money. He writes that “November 3rd … could be the most important meeting in Fed history, maybe. … To say there has been considerable debate and anxiety among Fed watchers about what the central bank should do would be an understatement.”
Chairman Ben Bernanke has indicated in recent speeches that the central bank plans to try to drive down already low-interest rates by buying up long-term bonds. A number of people both inside the Fed and out believe this is the wrong move. But one website seems to believe that Ben’s plan might actually lead to armed conflict. Last week, the blog Zerohedge wrote, paraphrasing a top economic forecaster David Rosenberg, that it believed the Fed’s plan is not only moronic, but “positions US society one step closer to civil war if not worse.” … with the Tea Party gaining followers, the idea of civil war over economic issues doesn’t seem that far-fetched these days. And Ron Paul definitely thinks the Fed should be ended. In TIME’s recently cover story on the militia movement many said these groups are powder kegs looking for a catalyst … Fedamageddon.
Armed conflict is probably not in the cards. But the situation is serious. Just how serious is a problem the press is now having a problem estimating. The problem with living in denial is that once the illusion shatters, the pendulum is apt to swing completely the other way. Overconfidence can be instantaneously replied by blind panic in the press. It’s easy to see why. All around the liberal landscape the pillars are collapsing. When the Boston Globe’s Jeff Jacoby notices that Barney Frank can’t play the gay card any more, a tectonic shift has occurred. Frank has gone from a man who would win by twenty points “no matter what he did” to a tired old man fighting for his political life in the bluest of blue districts.
Mr. Frank, 70, has not faced a competitive contest in over two decades. But Mr. Bielat is a compelling candidate, a fresh-faced former Marine with a Georgetown-Harvard-and-Wharton pedigree, and he is trying to capitalize on the anti-incumbent sentiment sweeping the country. With less than two weeks until Election Day, he has made this race far closer than anyone anticipated (Mr. Frank even lent his campaign $200,000 of his own money this week.).
How bad things will turn out to be in the next few months is a matter of conjecture. What appears to be true is that the old certainties are finished. By how big a margin is the question. The arithmetic is brutal. The money that once supported the welfare state is gone. Big Government “Hope and Change” is dead because it’s broke. Broke. Broke. Ask the Fed. All the protests in the world are not going to change that fact. Neither is all the printing in the world.
Worse, the ability to bluff is gone. The social shields that have long surrounded progressive politics are down. The automatic deference to the gatekeepers has evaporated and blown away. People are no longer intimidated by fancy titles and Nobel Prizes. News that Justice Alito is not attending the president’s next State of the Union Address and that Virginia Thomas has called Anita Hill asking her to apologize for her accusations against Clarence 20 years ago suggest that even politesse no longer trumps concern over the issues. No longer is it possible for one Washington insider to speak in family confidence to another. Remember how Saruman tried to cut a deal with Gandalf?
Are we not both members of a high and ancient order, most excellent in Middle-earth? Our friendship would profit us both alike. Much we could still accomplish together, to heal the disorders of the world. Let us understand one another, and dismiss from thought these lesser folk! Let them wait on our decisions! For the common good I am willing to redress the past, and to receive you.
That didn’t work because the “high and ancient order” was finished. We may be in a similar situation today. The old fabric has been rent; or rather it is being remade, but into what nobody knows quite yet. It remains to be seen whether Western societies can adapt quickly enough over the next few years to avoid the twin dangers of a doomed attempt to afford the past or a descent into chaos caused by an inability to accept the demise of the old order. Success will depend on how quickly we can free ourselves of outmoded ways of thinking. Can the Left face a future without itself? Probably not. Can the bureaucratic elites, who have ruled the roost for so long, accept that they have to find new careers for themselves? Maybe. But if the recent increase in the crisis tempo is any indicator, the answers to those questions will be required sooner rather than later.