Roger’s Rules

Thanks for the memories, Barack: Or, how to bankrupt a country in three easy steps

“Europe’s prospects brighten as U.S. fades.”  Thus a headline in Reuters this morning.

German business confidence is soaring while U.S. consumer sentiment sinks.

Britain’s second-quarter economic growth was almost twice as fast as expected, the strongest in four years.

Meanwhile, economists have steadily marked down forecasts for Friday’s U.S. gross domestic product report.

Thanks a lot, Mr. President.  And thanks to you, too, Secretary Geithner. You inherited the richest, most productive country in history. And you have set it firmly on course for economic stagnation.

It’s all part of your effort to “fundamentally transform the Untied States of America,” isn’t it, Mr. President? That’s what you promised in October 2008: to change America fundamentally. Who would have predicted you were really serious? (Well, some of us did, but you know what I mean.)

You’ve made it clear that, deep down, you really don’t like the United States. In that, you are like many of your Ivy confrères, all those Harvard-Yale-Princeton types who find the spectacle of individual freedom playing itself out irredeemably vulgar. You all are beyond allegiance to anything so parochial as an individual nation. And when it comes to what (even now) is the world’s nation of nations, the United States, you are more than embarrassed: you are downright impatient.

Samuel Huntington was right to call you “deconstructionists.”  He wasn’t talking about the reader-proof theories of Jacques Derrida but something much more practical. The sort of deconstructionists he had in mind were politicians and academics and policy makers who

promoted programs to enhance that status and influence of subnational racial, ethnic, and cultural groups. They encouraged immigrants to maintain their birth-country cultures, granted them legal privileges  denied to native-born Americans, and denounced the idea of Americanization as un-American. They pushed the rewriting of history syllabi and textbooks so as to refer to the “peoples” of the United States in place of the single people of the Constitution. They urged supplementing or substituting for national history the history of subnational groups.  They downgraded the centrality of English in American life and pushed bilingual education and linguistic diversity. They advocated legal recognition of group rights and racial preferences over the individual rights central to the American Creed.  They justified their actions by theories of multiculturalism and the idea that diversity rather than unity or community should be America’s overriding value. The combined effect of these efforts was to promote the deconstruction of the American identity that had been gradually created over three centuries.

Taken together, Huntington concluded, “these efforts by a nation’s leaders to deconstruct the nation they governed were, quite possibly, without precedent in human history.”

Of course, you are a special case, Mr. President. Your dislike of America has the added ingredient of what, for lack of a better term, I’ll call metaphysical ambivalence.  At its core, as Samuel Huntington pointed out in Who We Are, the United States is based upon certain “Anglo-Protestant values” that generations of immigrants had absorbed and made their own in the process of becoming American citizens. (Oh, how the left hated to have that pointed out!) Your filiations lie elsewhere, which perhaps explains why you bow to Saudi princes, why you forbid the conjunction of the  adjective “Islamic” with the noun “terrorist,” why, to take an example from the day before yesterday, you pretended to criticize the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi — all Americans, you said, were “surprised, disappointed and angry” that the Scots released him. But then it turns out that your State Department explictly, if secretly, told British authorities that you preferred his release for “compassionate” reasons. “All Americans” — did that include you Mr. President? I’m not asking about where you were born: I am asking about where your fundamental allegiance lies.

I believe that question is going to be on the lips of more and more people as the devastating effect of your radical social and economic programs is felt by more and more ordinary Americans. Consider: You are running far and away the largest deficit in the country’s history: $1.7 trillion. “Deficit,” “$1.7 trillion”: it all sounds so abstract, so far away. What is a “deficit,” anyway? And who can make sense of that number: 1,700,000,000,000?

What we need is a new Mr. Micawber who can dramatize the prospect of want, of penury concealed in the little word “deficit.”  Quoth Micaber: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.” Who is the cannier economist, Wilkins Micawber or John Maynard Keynes? Keynes never got his big brain around the fact that as the zeros multiply,  a yawning vista of impotence, of incapacity, of paralysis stretches out before us. “Misery,” indeed.

It’s quite clear — you’ve already announced — that you are going to use this mind-numbing deficit as an excuse to raise taxes—another abstract phrase worn smooth by repetition. The power to tax, Chief Justice Marshall observed long ago, is the power to destroy. How much of the American dream are you preparing to dismantle by depriving people of the means to fulfill it? Do you want to rein in the deficit? Stop spending. But you won’t do that while you can continue depleting the substance of the country by draining away the economic life blood of its citizens.  Ultimately, the issue is not the deficit but the spending. That is, the horrendous deficit is a product of incontinent spending.   You won’t admit that because both spending and taxing are instruments for the consolidation of your power — no matter that the potency of the country as a whole is diminished in the process.  Raising taxes diminishes revenue: that has been shown again and again.

How long before people wake up to that fact that you are only incidentally interested in battling the deficit — sure, it would be nice, but how much more important to you is “spreading the wealth around”?  That’s what, in an unguarded, an unscripted moment, you told Joe the Plumber.  What was perhaps insufficiently appreciated at the time is the fact that there are two sides to “spreading the wealth around.” There is the open hand that distributes largess (while at the same time fostering dependence and accumulating chits for favors done). And then there is the clenched hand that fleeces other people for the money you  require to make the redistribution work.  On the one hand there are favors done, loyalties incurred; on the other, there are penalties exacted.  I am not sure we have instruments fine enough to determine which is more gratifying to the political class of which you are so ostentatious a member.

The punitive side of your regime of “hope and change” will soon become starkly obvious to all — all, I mean, except the nomenklatura that inhabit the corridors of power. You and your fellow politicians will not be subject to the new health laws you have imposed upon the country.  You’ve made medicine a less attractive career, so there will be fewer good doctors, but still, there will be enough to serve Congress and the executive branch. And of course, you won’t be subject to the delays the rest of us face. You won’t be told, “I’m sorry, Mr. Obama, you are too old for that kidney transplant/innovative cancer treatment/cardiac procedure” as the rest of us will be. Even as Britain is dismantling a large part of the disaster that was its national health service, you are saddling Americans with health care that will be 1) more expensive 2) more cumbersome, and 3) worse.

Wealth. Health. Security. America has not not only been the richest country in history, the country with the most advanced medical technologies, it has also, at least since 1945, been the mightiest. You are working hard to “fundamentally transform” that aspect of the country as well. That’s why you cancelled the F-22 fighter program even as the Russians were bringing on line a fighter they claim is its equal.  The Chinese are increasing their military spending by 13 percent; how much are you cutting ours? Transforming America from a superpower to a paper tiger: that’s how Jed Babbin described it; how quickly you’ve done it, too.

Wealth. Health. Security. Freedom. “Conceived in liberty” —  remember Lincoln’s words?  As you stand at the helm of the Ship of Statism, is it gratifying to witness the many ways your administration has blighted the liberty and freedom of Americans?  You’re in the process of making them poorer, so they will have less wherewithal with which to negotiate life’s vicissitudes. You’ve made them more subject to the state in matters large and small: when it comes to their health care, to the kinds of cars they drive,  even the sorts of light bulbs they may use.

What is happening all around us is like a real-life dramatization of those pages Alexis de Tocqueville devoted to “democratic despotism.”  There are two sides to this novel form of tyranny. The fundamental political question, said Lenin, is “Who-Whom?” For the “whom,” i.e., for the ruled, democratic despotism has an enervating effect. It acts to reduce energy, initiative, the spirit of derring-do and entrepreneurship.  If you are more dependent on the state, if your activities are more hemmed in by bureaucracy, regulation, and taxation, you will be less likely to embark upon morning enterprises that require an appetite for risk, adventure, and ambition.

For the “who,” however, the fundamental effect of democratic despotism is a net increase in arrogance and unaccountability. Remember the way soon-to-be-retired Congressman Bob Etheridge treated that student who asked him whether he supported Obama’s programs? “Who are you,” he demanded as he manhandled the young man. Meaning “Who do you think you are to ask me a leading question?” Joe Biden would doubtless have called him a “smart-ass”: we little people are not meant to ask provocative questions.

You seem surprised, Mr. President, that more and more people are not only irritated but alarmed.  What I suspect you do not yet fully appreciate is that they are also energized as never before. The tea parties are not racist backwaters, notwithstanding the poisonous rhetoric spewing from the Democratic opinion factories. They are disparate grass roots movements, as different from each other as Arizona is different from Massachusetts and Georgia is different from California.  Yet they are united in the common purpose of wresting back from the government control over their lives. You are the shepherd who would lead us down the road marked “to serfdom.” More and more people are waking up to the reality that serfdom is a disagreeable state. How many?  We’ll make a first tally come November.