I was having lunch yesterday with a politically mature Democrat, one of those “Scoop Jackson” fellows you read about in books but -- unless you are older than I am -- have probably never met outside a book's pages. These are the chaps who see a fairly large role for government but who are also unabashedly pro-American, favor a robust foreign policy, are allergic to political correctness in all its squalid manifestations, and accordingly are the friends, not the enemies, of meritocracy.
It was a convivial lunch, but with a certain melancholy creeping in around the edges.
Witnessing the unedifying spectacle put on by our masters in Washington this last week or so, we could only shake our heads sadly. And when we contemplated the action of ordinary citizens -- those vets who disassembled the “Barrycades” erected in front of national monuments by a punitive Obama administration -- we couldn’t help wondering whether the country was teetering towards a pre-revolutionary state. Take a look at this video showing hundreds of veterans confronting park police in riot gear -- riot gear! -- in front of the White House. How about this photo of a vet: he lost the bottom half of both legs fighting to protect us from foreign enemies, and here he is now, tearing down those Barrycades, fighting to protect our prerogatives as free citizens, protesting the arrogant, overweening actions of a political elite that more and more views us citizens as serfs:
There is a lot more to be said about the events of the last couple of weeks: the pseudo-shutdown, the ham-handed and ineffectual pontifications of John Boehner, the punitive actions of the increasingly lawless Obama administration. Pundits and markets the world over heaved a collective sigh of relief when this circus of intransigence, stupidity, and preening brinksmanship collapsed on itself yesterday, but what happened is not behind us: it is prelude, not history. We are in the midst of political, social, and moral realignment, the lineaments of which no one’s crystal ball is sufficiently prescient to delineate with anything more than guess and possibilities.
This is a large subject, better suited to a book than a blog post. But let me draw on "The Obamacare Disaster," an essay by Conrad Black at NRO, to highlight some of the headwinds we face. First, a few data points:
The United States has 5 percent of the world’s people, 25 percent of its incarcerated people, and half of its trained lawyers (who now take about 10 percent of the GDP); the legal system is an embarrassment, and the criminal-justice system is a disgrace, in which prosecutors win 99.5 percent of their cases, 97 percent of them without a trial. The legislators of the country are ultimately responsible for this corruption of what the Constitution and Bill of Rights set up as a just and merciful Society of Laws. The terminal cancer of legal paralysis spreads every week of every year.
Can you doubt that what Black says is true? But what are “we the people” going to do about this metastasizing pathology? Probably, what we have always done: nothing.
Consider the wickedly named “Affordable Care Act.” It owes its very existence, as Black points out, “to political treachery, electoral hijinks, and extreme prosecutorial misconduct”:
The 60-vote level in the Senate was obtained by the subornation of Arlen Specter in that tainted window between his rejection by his own party and his defeat by the Pennsylvania voters, and by Al Franken’s questionable win in the Senate election in Minnesota, where partisan, county-by-county recounts overturned the people’s choice. Also, most egregiously, Republican senator Ted Stevens of Alaska had been narrowly defeated in 2008 after being convicted of taking a bribe -- a conviction that was subsequently thrown out because of the prosecutor’s completely improper suppression of exculpatory evidence.
Again, can any candid person cavil with these facts? Black focuses on the enormity that is Obamacare. But he also notes that that disastrous piece of legislation is a sort of synecdoche for a larger disaster: the eclipse of political legitimacy:
This is the governmental equivalent of congestive heart failure. It is the domestic-affairs equivalent of the Syrian policy: the moral imperatives, red lines, "moral obscenity," punitive action that wouldn’t really be damaging (would, in fact, be "unbelievably small"), and the constitutional position of commander-in-chief devolving to Congress. This has all become surreal.
Indeed it has. But where do we go from here? Black conjured the specter of Cromwell storming Parliament and thundering out its dissolution (“in the name of God go!”). Perhaps it will come to something like that.
I am not sure whether Black’s concluding remarks count as consolatory, or the opposite:
The American people are the greatest talent pool in the world; this is a system that has always worked adequately and often well. It is a democracy, and in a democracy the people are always right and they get the government they deserve. I do not dare to believe that the people that deserved Washington, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, Truman, Eisenhower, and Reagan (and chose them a total of 14 times) deserve this.
One question, I suppose, is where exactly are the successors of these titans? Not, I think, in Washington, D.C.