Our National Affliction

From Paul M. Johnson:

THE MENTAL INFECTION known as “political correctness” is one of the most dangerous intellectual afflictions ever to attack mankind. The fact that we began by laughing at it–and to some extent, still do–doesn’t diminish its venom one bit.

PC has an enormous appeal to the semieducated, one reason that it’s struck roots among overseas students at minor colleges. But it also appeals to pseudo-intellectuals everywhere, since it evokes the strong streak of cowardice notable among those wielding academic authority nowadays. Any empty-headed student with a powerful voice can claim someone (never specified) will be “hurt” by a hitherto harmless term, object or activity and be reasonably assured that the dons and professors in charge will show a white feather and do as the student demands. Thus, there isn’t a university campus on either side of the Atlantic that’s not in danger of censorship. The brutal young don’t even need to impose it themselves; their trembling elders will do it for them.

The insidious thing about PC is that it wasn’t–and isn’t–the creation of anyone in particular. It’s usually the anonymous work of such Kafkaesque figures as civil servants, municipal librarians, post office sorters and employees at similar levels. It penetrates the interstices of society, especially those where the hierarchies of privilege and property are growing. To a great extent PC is the revenge of the resentful underdog.

Nowhere has PC been more triumphant than in the U.S. This is remarkable, because America has traditionally been the home of vigorous, outspoken, raw and raucous speech. From the early 17th century, when the clerical discipline the Pilgrim Fathers sought to impose broke down and those who had things to say struck out westward or southward for the freedom to say them, America has been a land of unrestricted comment on anything–until recently. Now the U.S. has been inundated with PC inquisitors, and PC poison is spreading worldwide in the Anglo zone.

For these reasons it’s good news that Donald Trump is doing so well in the American political primaries. He is vulgar, abusive, nasty, rude, boorish and outrageous. He is also saying what he thinks and, more important, teaching Americans how to think for themselves again.

No one could be a bigger contrast to the spineless, pusillanimous and underdeserving Barack Obama, who has never done a thing for himself and is entirely the creation of reverse discrimination. The fact that he was elected President–not once, but twice–shows how deep-set the rot is and how far along the road to national impotence the country has traveled.

Under Obama the U.S.–by far the richest and most productive nation on earth–has been outsmarted, outmaneuvered and made to appear a second-class power by Vladimir Putin’s Russia. America has presented itself as a victim of political and economic Alzheimer’s disease, a case of national debility and geopolitical collapse.

None of the Republican candidates trailing Trump has the character to reverse this deplorable declension. The Democratic nomination seems likely to go to the relic of the Clinton era, herself a patiently assembled model of political correctness, who is carefully instructing America’s most powerful pressure groups in what they want to hear and whose strongest card is the simplistic notion that the U.S. has never had a woman President and ought to have one now, merit being a secondary consideration.

The world is disorderly and needs its leading nation to take charge and scare it back into decency. Donald Trump fits the bill. Other formidable figures, including Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan, have performed a similar service in the past. But each President is unique and cast in his own mold. Trump is a man of excess–and today a man of excess is what’s needed.

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The Left Is Coming for You Next

From Kevin D. Williamson:

We think in language, and we think in stories, a fact that is appreciated most keenly not by writers or literary critics but by censors.

In the course of writing about the ongoing fraud in which a cabal of left-wing lawyers with connections to the administrations of Barack Obama and Andrew Cuomo has attempted to extort many billions of dollars from Chevron, I had a memorable conversation with an executive at the energy giant. “We are the least sympathetic defendant there is,” he said. “We’re an oil company. You can say almost anything about an oil company. There are no stories in which the oil company is the good guy.” There is one: The one where you go to the 7-Eleven and fill up your miraculous machine with a miraculous energy source that would, within the recent history of the human species, have been indistinguishable from magic.

But the point stands. You can say anything you like, no matter how wild the claim, about an oil company or a financial firm, or, indeed, about any corporation, “corporation” now being the English word that means “a business that I hate.” The demonization of the word “corporation” has proceeded alongside the demonization of the concept. The word “corporation” already had slightly sinister overtones (it is naturally associated with the English word “corpse,” though that word is not in fact derived from the Latin “corpus”) which has been intensified by the immortal, galaxy-spanning corporations of science fiction; I have always thought (here I glance nervously over my shoulder at Kathryn Jean Lopez) that the writers of Star Trek missed an opportunity with the Borg, whose habitual promise that “you will be assimilated” would have been much better rendered “you will be incorporated,” since they, like a Portuguese man-o’-war, form a single colonial organism. Incorporation is a word that strikes terror into many hearts. (Particularly those beating in proximity to Houston.) I spent part of Friday night among Hillary Rodham Clinton supporters in New York, and one very nice young couple warned me darkly that Republicans would “do whatever the corporations tell them to.” The corporations: As if they were all part of the same team, and had meetings.

The American Left, which long ago abandoned its hereditary liberalism for totalitarianism, is very much interested in policing language. Writing this week in Time, which still exists, Katy Steinmetz complains about the use of the word “transgendered” to describe people who were until five minutes ago known as transsexuals, and five minutes before that weird guys in dresses. (The argument, in case you are wondering, is that the implicitly passive form “transgendered” suggests that something was done to these people, as though we could not distinguish between a tossed salad and a spotted owl.) She offers other sage advice: “If you meet a trans person — someone who identifies with a gender other than the sex they were assigned at birth — it’s generally a good idea to ask which pronouns (he or she, him or her) they prefer and to use whatever that is.” Other than establishing that she isn’t a reliable guide to pronouns, the merry assumption of absolute nonsense — “the sex they were assigned at birth” as opposed to the sex they are — isn’t just illiteracy. People instinctively resist the lie, which makes it necessary to make the truth almost literally unspeakable, even unthinkable. The lie isn’t quite sold yet, inasmuch as people still roll their eyes a little at the phrase “women with penises,” but it is getting there.

Progressive tut-tutting about that sort of thing may be the mild stuff, but it isn’t innocuous. Activists for the so-called transgendered have argued that my work on the issue should be not criticized but banned, as in suppressed by the force of state violence. The usual banalities — “hate speech” and all that — are invoked. So far, it isn’t a crime to get on the wrong side of the men-in-dresses activists. We aren’t, after all, Canadians.

Global warming, though, is a different matter. The attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Claude Earl Walker, has issued a subpoena to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank that has been critical of a great deal of global-warming scholarship. This is part of a coordinated campaign by Democratic attorneys general, including those in New York and California, to prosecute persons and institutions with nonconforming views on global warming, with special attention being given to Exxon and to groups that it may have supported financially. The subpoena against CEI is a pure fishing expedition, a search for anything that might be potentially embarrassing that can be used as part of the public-relations campaign rather than as part of a prosecution, the prosecution bit being tricky because there isn’t much of an argument that any laws have been broken.

New York’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, is taking a similar approach. He isn’t sure what law Exxon has broken, but he promises to find one, making different accusations and arguments as the venue demands. Barack Obama’s so-called Justice Department is considering filing a case of its own.

Despite the insistence of Democrats in positions of power, this is not a “fraud” investigation. There has been no credible case made — none whatsoever — that any fraud has been committed.

We should, while it is permitted, be as plain as possible about what is happening here: This is an act of obvious, gross, and indefensible political suppression, with two ends: One is riling up young, white, middle-income progressives before the 2016 election (in which California’s Democratic attorney general, Kamala Harris, is a Senate candidate), voters who care a great deal about global warming and not very much about freedom of speech; the second is financial, in that Exxon, the second most valuable firm on Earth by market capitalization, has a great deal of money, and may be bullied into a settlement that will fund a great deal of Democratic activism for years to come.

This is banana-republic stuff.

Kamala Harris, Eric Schneiderman, Claude Earl Walker, and Attorney General Loretta Lynch should not resign — they should be hounded from office, and from polite society. Prosecuting political institutions and businesses for political activism is brown-shirt business, plain and simply and ugly and heinous. If you believe that this will stop at prosecuting wicked, evil “corporations,” you are deluding yourself.

You’re next.

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Bureaucratic Collectivism

From Jonah Goldeberg:

For understandable reasons, the IRS scandal has largely focused on the political question of whether the White House deliberately targeted its opponents. To date there’s no evidence that it did. That’s good for the president, but it may not be good for the country, because if the administration didn’t target opponents, that would mean the IRS has become corrupt all on its own.

In 1939, Bruno Rizzi, a largely forgotten Communist intellectual, wrote a hugely controversial book, The Bureaucratization of the World. Rizzi argued that the Soviet Union wasn’t Communist. Rather, it represented a new kind of system, what Rizzi called “bureaucratic collectivism.” What the Soviets had done was get rid of the capitalist and aristocratic ruling classes and replace them with a new, equally self-interested ruling class: bureaucrats.

The book wasn’t widely read, but it did reach Bolshevik theoretician Leon Trotsky, who attacked it passionately. Trotsky’s response, in turn, inspired James Burnham, who used many of Rizzi’s ideas in his own 1941 book The Managerial Revolution, in which Burnham argued that something similar was happening in the West. A new class of bureaucrats, educators, technicians, regulators, social workers, and corporate directors who worked in tandem with government were reengineering society for their own benefit. The Managerial Revolution was a major influence on George Orwell’s 1984.

Now, I don’t believe we are becoming anything like 1930s Russia, never mind a real-life 1984. But this idea that bureaucrats — very broadly defined — can become their own class bent on protecting their interests at the expense of the public seems not only plausible but obviously true.

The evidence is everywhere. Every day it seems there’s another story about teachers’ unions using their stranglehold on public schools to reward themselves at the expense of children. School-choice programs and even public charter schools are under vicious attack, not because they are bad at educating children but because they’re good at it. Specifically, they are good at it because they don’t have to abide by rules aimed at protecting government workers at the expense of students.

The Veterans Affairs scandal can be boiled down to the fact that VA employees are the agency’s most important constituency. The Phoenix VA health-care system created secret waiting lists where patients languished and even died, while the administrator paid out almost $10 million in bonuses to VA employees over the last three years.

Working for the federal government simply isn’t like working for the private sector. Government employees are essentially unfireable. In the private sector, people lose their jobs for incompetence, redundancy, or obsolescence all the time. In government, these concepts are virtually meaningless. From a 2011 USA Today article: “Death — rather than poor performance, misconduct or layoffs — is the primary threat to job security at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Small Business Administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Office of Management and Budget and a dozen other federal operations.”

In 2010, the 168,000 federal workers in Washington, D.C. — who are quite well compensated — had a job-security rate of 99.74 percent. A HUD spokesman told USA Today that “his department’s low dismissal rate — providing a 99.85 percent job security rate for employees — shows a skilled and committed workforce.”

Uh huh.

Obviously, economic self-interest isn’t the only motivation. Bureaucrats no doubt sincerely believe that government is a wonderful thing and that it should be empowered to do ever more wonderful things. No doubt that is why the EPA has taken it upon itself to rewrite American energy policy without so much as a “by your leave” to Congress.

The Democratic party today is, quite simply, the party of government and the natural home of the managerial class. It is no accident, as the Marxists say, that the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents the IRS, gave 94 percent of its political donations during the 2012 election cycle to Democratic candidates openly at war with the Tea Party — the same group singled out by Lois Lerner. The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents the VA, gave 97 percent of its donations to Democrats at the national level and 100 percent to Democrats at the state level.

We constantly hear how the evil Koch brothers are motivated by a toxic mix of ideology and economic self-interest. Is it so impossible to imagine that a class of workers might be seduced by the same sorts of impulses? It’s true that the already super-rich Kochs would benefit from a freer country. It’s also true that the managerial class would benefit from the bureaucratization of America.

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It’s About Control

My father-in-law, born and raised in Communist Romania, always said that everything done by the Communists — while ostensibly for the people — was ultimately about control of the people. Walter Williams shows how the Communists’ ideological brethren here are doing the same:

Some statements and arguments are so asinine that you’d have to be an academic or a leftist to take them seriously. Take the accusation that Republicans and conservatives are conducting a war on women. Does that mean they’re waging war on their daughters, wives, mothers and other female members of their families? If so, do they abide by the Geneva Conventions’ bans on torture, or do they engage in enhanced interrogation and intimidation methods, such as waterboarding, with female family members? You might say that leftists don’t mean actual war. Then why do they say it?

What would you think of a white conservative mayor’s trying to defund charter schools where blacks are succeeding? While most of New York’s black students could not pass a citywide math proficiency exam, there was a charter school where 82 percent of its students passed. New York’s left-wing mayor, Bill de Blasio, is trying to shut it down, and so far, I’ve heard not one peep from the Big Apple’s civil rights hustlers, including Al Sharpton and Charles Rangel. According to columnist Thomas Sowell, the attack on successful charter schools is happening in other cities, too (http://tinyurl.com/nxulxc).

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently stated that we must revisit the laws that ban convicted felons from voting. Why? According to a recent study by two professors, Marc Meredith of the University of Pennsylvania and Michael Morse of Stanford, published in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (http://tinyurl.com/pgolu8x), three-fourths of America’s convicted murderers, rapists and thieves are Democrats. Many states restrict felons from voting; however, there’s a movement afoot to eliminate any restriction on their voting. If successful, we might see Democratic candidates campaigning in prisons, seeking the support of some of America’s worst people.

Decades ago, I warned my fellow Americans that the tobacco zealots’ agenda was not about the supposed health hazards of secondhand smoke. It was really about control. The fact that tobacco smoke is unpleasant gained them the support of most Americans. By the way, to reach its secondhand smoke conclusions, the Environmental Protection Agency employed statistical techniques that were grossly dishonest. Some years ago, I had the opportunity to ask a Food and Drug Administration official whether his agency would accept pharmaceutical companies using similar statistical techniques in their drug approval procedures. He just looked at me.

Seeing as Americans are timid and compliant, why not dictate other aspects of our lives — such as the size of soda we may buy, as former Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried in New York? Former U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesman John Webster said: “Right now, this anti-obesity campaign is in its infancy. … We want to turn people around and give them assistance in eating nutritious foods.” The city of Calabasas, Calif., adopted an ordinance that bans smoking in virtually all outdoor areas. The stated justification is not the desire to fight against secondhand smoke but the desire to protect children from bad influences — seeing adults smoking. Most Americans don’t know that years ago, if someone tried to stop a person from smoking on a beach or sidewalk or buying a 16-ounce cup of soda or tried to throw away his kid’s homemade lunch, it might have led to a severe beating. On a very famous radio talk show, I suggested to an anti-obesity busybody who was calling for laws to restrict restaurants’ serving sizes that he not be a coward and rely on government. He should just come up, I told him, and take the food he thought I shouldn’t have from my plate.

The late H.L. Mencken’s description of health care professionals in his day is just as appropriate today: “A certain section of medical opinion, in late years, has succumbed to the messianic delusion. Its spokesmen are not content to deal with the patients who come to them for advice; they conceive it to be their duty to force their advice upon everyone, including especially those who don’t want it. That duty is purely imaginary. It is born of vanity, not of public spirit. The impulse behind it is not altruism, but a mere yearning to run things.”

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Fundamentally Transforming America

Of all the countries in the world, Barack Obama sees the United States as one in need of fundamental transformation. Truly warped yet completely expected coming from such a devout Leftist.

From Charles Krauthammer:

The media herd is stunned to discover that Barack Obama is a man of the left. After 699 teleprompted presidential speeches, the commentariat was apparently still oblivious. Until Monday’s inaugural address, that is.

Where has everyone been these four years? The only surprise is that Obama chose his second inaugural, generally an occasion for “malice toward none” ecumenism, to unveil so uncompromising a left-liberal manifesto.

But the substance was no surprise. After all, Obama had unveiled his transformational agenda in his first address to Congress, four years ago (Feb. 24, 2009). It was, I wrote at the time, “the boldest social democratic manifesto ever issued by a U.S. president.”

Nor was it mere talk. Obama went on to essentially nationalize health care, 18 percent of the U.S. economy — after passing an $833 billion stimulus that precipitated an unprecedented expansion of government spending. By the White House’s own reckoning, Washington now spends 24 percent of GDP, fully one-fifth higher than the postwar norm of 20 percent.

Obama’s ambitions were derailed by the 2010 midterm shellacking that cost him the House. But now that he’s won again, the revolution is back, as announced in Monday’s inaugural address.

It was a paean to big government. At its heart was Obama’s pledge to (1) defend unyieldingly the 20th-century welfare state and (2) expand it unrelentingly for the 21st.

The first part of that agenda — clinging zealously to the increasingly obsolete structures of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — is the very definition of reactionary liberalism. Social Security was created when life expectancy was 62. Medicare was created when modern medical technology was in its infancy. Today’s radically different demographics and technology have rendered these programs, as structured, unsustainable. Everyone knows that, unless reformed, they will swallow up the rest of the budget.

As for the second part — enlargement — Obama had already begun that in his first term with Obamacare. Monday’s inaugural address reinstated yet another grand Obama project — healing the planet. It promised a state-created green-energy sector, massively subsidized (even as the state’s regulatory apparatus systematically squeezes fossil fuels, killing coal today, shale gas tomorrow).

The playbook is well known. As Czech President (and economist) Vaclav Klaus once explained, environmentalism is the successor to failed socialism as justification for all-pervasive rule by a politburo of experts. Only now, it acts in the name of not the proletariat but the planet.

Monday’s address also served to disabuse the fantasists of any Obama interest in fiscal reform or debt reduction. This speech was spectacularly devoid of any acknowledgment of the central threat to the postindustrial democracies (as already seen in Europe) — the crisis of an increasingly insolvent entitlement state.

On the contrary. Obama is the apostle of the ever-expanding state. His speech was an ode to the collectivity. But by that he means only government, not the myriad of voluntary associations — religious, cultural, charitable, artistic, advocacy, ad infinitum — that are the glory of the American system.

For Obama, nothing lies between citizen and state. It is a desert, within which the isolated citizen finds protection only in the shadow of Leviathan. Put another way, this speech is the perfect homily for the marriage of Julia — the Obama campaign’s atomized citizen, coddled from cradle to grave — and the state.

In the eye of history, Obama’s second inaugural is a direct response to Ronald Reagan’s first. On Jan. 20, 1981, Reagan had proclaimed: “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” And then succeeded in bending the national consensus to his ideology — as confirmed 15 years later when the next Democratic president declared “The era of big government is over.” So said Bill Clinton, who then proceeded to abolish welfare.

Obama is no Clinton. He doesn’t abolish entitlements; he preserves the old ones and creates new ones in pursuit of a vision of a more just social order where fighting inequality and leveling social differences are the great task of government.

Obama said in 2008 that Reagan “changed the trajectory of America” in a way that Clinton did not. He meant that Reagan had transformed the political zeitgeist, while Clinton accepted and thus validated the new Reaganite norm.

Not Obama. His mission is to redeem and resurrect the 50-year pre-Reagan liberal ascendancy. Accordingly, his second inaugural address, ideologically unapologetic and aggressive, is his historical marker, his self-proclamation as the Reagan of the left. If he succeeds in these next four years, he will have earned the title.

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Why I Despair

From Charles C.W. Cooke:

An apocryphal tale tells of an American who claimed to own George Washington’s axe. “Three times,” he exclaims, the axe has “had its handle replaced, and twice had its head replaced!”

This is a joke that has been rendered in more serious form by philosophers throughout the ages — perhaps most famously in Plutarch’s Life of Theseus — and it may be time now to consider it in relation to the United States. People and countries change, as they must. But, as with Washington’s axe, to change too much is to invite the possibility not merely of alteration, but of replacement. Predicated, as it is, on an established set of principles — rather than merely on geographical or racial fact — America could presumably reach a point at which it could no longer usefully be called America. How close to that point are we?

I was born in England in 1984, two days before Ronald Reagan was elected to a second term. As a small child, I watched the Space Shuttle take off from Cape Canaveral in Florida. I had an Apollo 11 lunchbox. With varying levels of awareness, I saw the United States defeat Communism, come to Kuwait’s aid in 1991, and rise to hyperpower status. During the 1990s, I watched in awe as Silicon Valley revolutionized the world. Once, my father told me that the difference between the average Briton and the average American was that a Briton looks at a man driving a Ferrari and thinks, “What a b*****d,” while an American thinks, “I’ll be him one day.” This my father considered a great virtue — as do I. By the time that I was ten years old, I didn’t just think that America was the world’s great hope, I knew it.

On frequent visits across the pond, I saw little to disabuse me of these notions. America was just different: There was no crushing class system, and it had a genuine and unique scope for immigrants to integrate fully, and the virtue of living under the protection of the greatest constitution in the history of the world. There was opportunity, too. Christopher Hitchens, by no means short of talent, once wrote that he had been compelled to move to America because “life in Britain had seemed like one long antechamber to a room that had too many barriers to entry.” Britain treated me well in a great many ways, but I understand what Hitchens meant: America is mercifully lacking in gatekeepers.

Inevitably, this translates into politics. British elections are mean-spirited and meretricious affairs that reveal what the country has become in its post-imperial form. In them, the focus flits between mercenary discussion of what the government is going to give the people and petty bickering over inconsequential details such as which schools the candidates went to and how much money they have. Few principles are at stake because classical liberalism is largely dead, so debates ultimately boil down to the question of who is going to run the welfare system more efficiently. The candidates’ arguments are full of nebulous, slippery words, such as “fairness” and “investment” — and the never-ending substitution of the word “community” for “government.” You would never hear Kennedy’s famous “Ask not what your country can do for you” line in a British political context because nobody would understand what he was talking about. Only in America. Anyone can make it there!

But, consider this: A president of the United States just ran a reelection campaign based on the promise of government largess, exploitation of class division, the demonization of success, the glorification of identity politics, and the presumption that women are a helpless interest group; and he did so while steadfastly refusing to acknowledge the looming — potentially fatal — crisis that the country faces. And it worked.

Worse, as David Harsanyi has observed, “the president’s central case rests on the idea that individuals should view government as society’s moral center, the engine of prosperity and the arbiter of fairness.” This stunted and tawdry vision of American life was best summed up in his campaign’s contemptible Life of Julia cartoon, which portrayed the American Dream as being impossible without heavy cradle-to-grave government, and in which the civic society that Tocqueville correctly saw as the hallmark of the republic was wholly ignored — if not disdained outright. “Government is the only thing we all belong to,” declared a video at the opening of the Democratic National Convention. In another age, this contention would have been met with incredulity and confusion; in ours, it was cheered.

So, too, were the two central achievements of Obama’s first term: the spending of an unprecedented amount of borrowed money on the president’s political allies, and the turning of the health-care system over to the bureaucracy in a “reform” that, inter alia, stipulates that to be alive is to owe something to Washington. The latter move involves a claim on the people that no free government should ever make, and that no American government has ever made before. For these grave missteps, the president suffered an epic loss in Congress in 2010. The revolt looked promising, but then — for whatever reasons — he was reelected. Now, Obama has the chance to remake the Supreme Court and remake America’s Constitution, too. Who doubts he will take it?

If we are to lose America as it has been, could we not ask that it be lost to something better than this? Our president, a Narcissus masquerading as a Demosthenes, makes big speeches packed full of little ideas, and he is applauded wildly for it. His, says Marco Rubio, “are tired and old big-government ideas. Ideas that people come to America to get away from. Ideas that threaten to make America more like the rest of the world, instead of helping the world become more like America.” I will vouch for the verity of these words. I have watched how these sorry ideas play out in the real world, and it is not pretty: They make people’s lives worse, and yet simultaneously convince them that any reform will kill them — a fatal combination. Americans should avoid this path sedulously, for that way lies decline.

Rubio is correct in another assessment. How small Barack Obama’s politics are! How deficient and outmoded are his ideas; how limited his understanding of America’s value; how dull his magniloquence. The president has an ample library of ideas from which to choose, and yet he raids the Old World. Compare Barack Obama’s entire oeuvre to a single line from Thomas Jefferson or Emma Lazarus or Frederick Douglass — or even Ronald Reagan. Does it stand up? Only in a society that has lost touch with the ancient and is reflexively in love with the new could such a man be considered to be an inspiration.

And yet, he has now won twice. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to elect such a man once may be regarded as a misfortune, but to elect him twice looks like carelessness. (Or, rather, criminal negligence.) This year, certainly, was not the perfect storm of 2008. Then, novelty and redemption played a role; this time, an insipid bore ran on an openly statist platform and won the day in a country that is supposed to be “center right.” Maybe it no longer is. In 1980, when faced with a set of policies that demonstrably hadn’t worked and a president who wanted to take America leftward, America chose a different path; in 2012, it doubled down. That says a lot about a people. The central problem, then, is not that Obama will be president for the next few years, but that the American people — knowing him — chose to reelect him. Even if this is put down to a failure of Romney’s turnout operation or Hurricane Sandy or Obama’s brilliant targeting, it does not say much for their commitment to classical liberalism that a significant group of Americans stayed away from the fight because they didn’t like Mitt Romney. That this was not a clear-cut repudiation of the president should sound the alarm.

Many had hoped that Tuesday would be 1980 revisited. It was not. Instead, in its effects at least, it was more like 1945 in Britain, in which year the Labour party was elected and began to put into place the foundations of a government-owned and -run health-care system that would quickly displace the established church as Britain’s national religion. (If you question the believers’ zeal, take a look at the frenzied NHS worship at the Olympic opening ceremony.) As Mark Steyn has correctly observed, in Britain as elsewhere, the National Health Service paved the way for a “permanent left-of-center political culture” that obtains regardless of who wins office. Obamacare will now go into effect, and Americans will soon feel entitled to its fruits. Those who doubt that this will have a deleterious effect on American republicanism have clearly never been bribed with their own health care. Almost certainly, Obamacare will fail. And then, as always, it will be replaced by something even further left. For the model, see Obama’s record on student loans.

Economic gravity will prevail, as it always does, and it will eventually yield another conservative president. Indeed, the nature of the two-party system all but guarantees it. But this won’t do much good in and of itself. The growth of the state is a one-way ratchet, and its size and intrusion are almost never retrenched. Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1788 that “the natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground.” “A government bureau,” added Ronald Reagan, “is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth.”

How true these words are. Mrs. Thatcher, fittingly lionized by those on the right, certainly achieved a lot. But she could do nothing about Britain’s creaking welfare system or its antediluvian National Health Service. Nobody can. Nobody would even try. (Consider what an Augean task it is even to get people seriously to discuss Medicare’s disquieting trajectory.) Mrs. Thatcher’s party is well named: They are, quite literally, the “Conservatives,” and their role now is simply to run the government better than the socialists. Britain once had an Empire that stretched across one quarter of the globe; it provided the world with a common language, many of its institutions, global trade, and cricket; we did Great Things at home and abroad. Now, we wrangle over whether state spending should be 39 or 40 percent of GDP, and we hold the prime minister personally responsible for hospital conditions hundreds of miles from London. It’s debilitating.

Once upon a time, when civic society flourished in Britain, it was uncontroversial to observe that to demur at government involvement in the achievement of an end was not necessarily to consider that end undesirable. Under Leviathan, such distinctions draw blank stares. In 2010, on the BBC’s Question Time — a British current-affairs show on which the guests trip over one other to display the appropriate degree of fealty to whichever orthodoxy is in the news that week whilst the audience tries to be as clever as one can be without doing any reading — the question of impending government spending cuts was raised. One audience member stood up and, waving her hands around, asked who would mow her elderly mother’s lawn if the government no longer did it. The audience clapped. The host looked serious. Not a single person on the panel said, “You!” Neither of the putatively Conservative guests even raised an eyebrow. A particularly oleaginous MP proceeded to tell her that it was a “good question.” I threw a coffee cup at my television.

“In August 1914,” wrote the historian A. J. P. Taylor, “a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman. He could live where he liked and as he liked. He had no official number or identity card.” A century later, he does not even expect to have to tend to his own family’s garden. That’s some shift in the Overton window.

I quite earnestly believe in all of the stuff that I’m not supposed to. I believe that America is exceptional; that it is an objectively better nation than any other that has ever existed; and that it is, as it was explicitly designed always to be, the last, best hope for mankind. As Winthrop’s sermon poetically put it, America is the “Shining City upon a Hill,” there so that men without liberty have somewhere to turn and a light that they might follow. I followed that light — 3,500 miles from my friends and my family — because I believed that my life would be better here, because I wanted to be free, and because I felt that under American liberty I would be able to be myself more honestly and more fully. There is nowhere else I could have gone.

Alas, there is nothing written in the stars that says that America will always be America. “Rome,” as Joseph Heller brutally reminded us, “was destroyed, Greece was destroyed, Persia was destroyed, Spain was destroyed. All great countries are destroyed. Why not yours? How much longer do you really think your own country will last? Forever? Keep in mind that the earth itself is destined to be destroyed by the sun in 25 million years or so.” There will be little virtue in America if it becomes a larger version of Britain, but with free speech and the right to bear arms.

On Tuesday, America took another giant leap away both from its revolutionary mission and from the classical liberalism that it has successfully incubated for so long. This is a rotten thing for America, and also — though it might not realize it — for the world; for, like Anthony Blanche, Evelyn Waugh’s “aesthete par excellence,” should the United States descend into the mire, it will “take something away with it.” If America ceases to be America, it will “[lock] a door and hang the key on a chain.” And then? “All [its] friends, among whom [it] had always been a stranger,” will realize they need it. I know I do.

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They Agree With Him

From Mark Steyn:

While we’re at it, on the brink of another four years, the key point about Barack Obama is not that he’s a secret Muslim Kenyan Commie or whatever. Whether he was born in Honolulu or Mombasa or Stockholm or up on Planet Zongo, what matters (as I write in my book) is that in his general worldview he is entirely typical and perfectly representative of tens upon tens of millions of Americans. Tuesday’s majority confirmed that. They don’t need a “conspiracy”: They agree with him. That’s the problem.

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