Work and Days

Summer of Reflection

America the resurgent

Beneath all the doom and gloom, what strikes one this late summer is the sheer resurgence of the United States. I am up in the high Sierra this week and decided to drive to a couple of lakes, visit campgrounds, and talk to vacationers, with laptop and ears open. This is not America’s elite at Tahoe or Carmel, but the working classes who drove up from Fresno County to the nearby Sierra National Forest.

One from Mars would be hard-pressed to see poverty. Shaver Lake (50 minutes above Fresno) is a traffic jam of jet-skies, power-boats, water-skiers, and houseboaters churning up $6 a gallon boat gas. The campgrounds have none of the simple tents and cook-out gear of my youth. Instead mammoth SUVS, Winnebagoes, and trailers cram in, with satelitte dishes, plug-in microwaves, and all sorts of kayaks, canoes, and others lakecraft. Every race imaginable was here, every class, every age.

Next I walked around Huntington Lake: the camps—boy scout, religious, and private— were stuffed with boats at the docks, camping gear, and all sorts of conveniences. The parking lots are full of massive 4x4s, double-cabbed trucks, and all-terrain vehicles. This is not the 1930s, crede mihi.

I drive a 2004 Honda Accord with a 105K on it, and feel lucky to have it. The vehicles ahead of me were all in the $40-50K range, half of them towing something more expensive than my car.

I talked to one fellow who was backing his 26-foot sailboat down the lake ramp, via his Honda Ridgeway truck, complaining to me about gas prices and the “Depression”. He said he came up for two days of sailing, a rented condo, and partying. The snacks in his boat would have fed the Joads ten times over. Why the appeal to poverty? He couldn’t afford driving to Yellowstone this summer, he said.

Some summer of our discontent

The War in Iraq is no longer a war as we would usually define it, and the unthinkable is occurring—a consensual society rising in the middle of a nightmarish region. The US military has been superb—despite its top general derided as a traitor, movies, one after another, depicting our soldiers as animals and terrorists, and our politicians declaring that our military was either incompetent or amoral. And yet, here we are with the unimaginable: a working Iraq, and our greatest enemies either dead or in hiding.

The economy should have tanked long ago, we are told. But despite the mortgage collapse, fuel spikes, and spiraling deficits, millions get up every morning and create billions of dollars in goods and services beyond the comprehension of most economists. The truth is that Americans work more efficiently in a climate of legality, meritocracy, and nonviolence than any others in the world.

While the world salivates over our misdemeanors, the Russians threaten Georgia, the Orwellian Chinese lock up whom they please, the Europeans finger point and snooze—and the US just plods along without the slightest of praise. I pass on the other continents where corruption and killing make no news.


Despite the political acrimony, we can begin to see a WWII-like push to more energy production on the horizon, as we will build nuclear plants, more refineries, drill, conserve, and press ahead with alternatives. Oh, the Obamaniacs will, as in the case of the surge and Iraq, damn these multifarious efforts— and then quietly sign on to them as they gain steam, postfacto sermonizing that their principled opposition in fact explains their sudden success.

The truth is we have been in a collective slumber and are slowly wakening to the reality that the U.S. is blessed with coal, natural gas, and oil. Nuclear power and hydro were once American trademarks. Wind and solar are likewise American specialties. I watch during the week in Palo Alto the so-called nerds of Silicon Valley in cafes as they type and jot; I don’t think there are any smarter, more competent engineers in the world, and their blood is up to find something better than gas.

Tar sands and shale are ubiquitous in North America. All we need is a push, and then the momentum would be unstoppable and the national enthusiasm likewise cascading. We forget that offshore, ANWR, the shelf, coal, nuclear, are not merely mechanisms to greater self-sufficiency, but unappreciated national assets worth trillions in today’s market.

“Tragic history”

I didn’t care much about Obama’s decision not to wear a flag lapel. And I expected the usual cant from him about reparations, the need for more oppression studies, and the feigned charges of racism. But finally when one collates it all up (and here I am thinking about his latest, Michelle-like sermons; try “I personally would want to see our tragic history, or the tragic elements of our history, acknowledged” or “America is — is no longer what it could be, what it once was”), I get tired of it all.

In other words, there starts to emerge a portrait of someone who always thinks first of what is wrong with America and only later what is right. Given his meteoric rise in the United States, one would expect some acknowledgment of what a wonderful country this, without the weepy qualifiers especially given his rudimentary knowledge of how life works in Indonesia, or second-hand, in Kenya.

Yet each time Obama recites American history or mentions his country in the abstract, one of two things follow: either a brief narrative about its protest movements, or some such “not perfect” or “tragic” adjective. I know his handlers, who muzzled Michelle, Trostkyized Ayers, Wright, Pfleger et al, and teleprompted his speeches, can do better, but in their defense they are working against a quarter-century of saturation in which Columbia, Harvard, Trinity and Chicago politics have drummed into him that starting with what is wrong with your country ends up with you doing pretty good by it—a hard habit to break, that siren-song of grievance.

A different election

Some liberal posters note that the world won’t fall apart should Obama win. I agree. But I still believe that we have not seen as liberal a candidate on the national scene since the Henry Wallace Vice Presidency. With two houses of Congress in his camp, Obama’s agenda, to the extent we can ascertain it due to his many metamorphoses, seems the final reification of the European socialist dream: Our top tax rates would reach 62-5%. Inheritance, payroll, and capital gains taxes would spiral. The ensuing cash—to the extent that it materializes given the suppression of aggregate economic growth—would not pay down the debt, but rather fund ever more entitlements, that would in turn increase the Bush deficits, further erode personal responsibility, and add to the national crybaby malaise in which every particular group claims victimization to garner more cash.

We would defer to the UN and EU in foreign policy, back peddle out of Iraq, talk tough on Afghanistan but do less than we do now. And as in energy policy, America would lecture the rest of the world, while doing little ourselves. Nothing has hurt the Democrats more than this image of an America that cries, borrows, threatens to sue, begs for more oil abroad, and then with nose up in the air refuses to put an oil rig in ANWR or another off Santa Barbara. These elites evoke images of fallen aristocrats, strolling on the croquet lawns, flat broke but humiliated by the thought of working.

Under Obama, high gas prices would be seen as good, the higher the less the carbon footprint, the more government-controlled mass transit, and the more the restless American lifestyle is turned down.

Of course, as was the case of Jimmy Carter when his utopianism met the Soviets in Afghanistan, the communists in central America, the mullahs in Teheran, double-digit interest rates, and the genocide in southeast Asia, this latest liberal perfectionism would not last too long, though just long enough to do a great deal of damage.

Europe, as is always the case with the contemporary Left, is the model. And that is scary. On each occasion I visit, I come away struck by the secularism, the scarcity of children, the ubiquity of government, the unassimilated minorities, the weird religion of anti-Americanism that has devolved into jeans on the legs, I-pods in the ears, and venom out of the mouth, the sensualism and gratification of the appetites.

Leftists here seem almost obtuse to European intrusion into the private sphere: do they visit Europe and see the omnipresence of video cameras on corners, on highways? Or government cards and regulations everywhere? Or the degree to which the judicial system simply is not guided by law?

A Final Note

I had a wonderful grandfather, born, raised, and died in the same house, where I still live, who, born in 1890, was absolutely mystified by modernism and especially the 1960s (he still called my bike “the wheel”). Before dying in 1976, although a strong Harry Truman Democrat, he once asked me, “Victor, what will happen when all these crazy people have to take over from us?” I think if one were to collate Al Gore’s lifestyle with his ’10-years all wind or solar–or else’ rhetoric, John Edward’s personal and professed morality, the radical failure to use our own energy resources, the vapidity cum coarseness of Hollywood, or the antics of a or Media Matters, one could understand his worry and how the twenty-somethings of the 1960s are aging badly. Before they are gone, they will have given us a lot more than Botox and bankrupt Social Security.

A final note. I get hundreds of emails a week on the Tribune column, NRO postings,and here at Pajamas, many of them outraged and worse. I’ve noticed a rule of thumb. Those on the right who are angry, lecture me, and often point out something I missed, an article to read, or a logical fallacy; those on the left are more likely to use profanity, name-call–and, yes, refer to themselves in self-absorbing fashion. The almost unconscious resort to profanity, four-letter words, and quasi-threats is quite astonishing, especially when juxtaposed to the titles and self-referencing that accompanies their screeds.

That too is a legacy of the 60s…