Saturday, August 15, 2009

America, again, at a crossroads

. . . let's not take the wrong road.
Excerpts from from "Our Ongoing Catharsis"
by Victor Davis Hanson
at PajamasMedia

Quiet Before the Storm?

The more I talk to Americans, the more they seem apprehensive. They are exasperated that the talk of all these new taxes won’t translate into balanced budgets, but into gargantuan new debts. More and more get the impression that the more we are to pay for taxes and the more entitlements are to expand, the more both are owed rather than appreciated. The more we say we are sorry abroad, the more a Chavez, Kim Jong Il, or Ahmadinejad may well confuse contrition for timidity and so try to readjust the regional order—as a warm-up for something really serious from Russia or China.

A Necessary Catharsis

If one reads the early plays of Aristophanes, Aristotle’s Politics, or later political observers like Tocqueville, then one appreciates that in a democracy there is always a certain tendency for ochlocracy*. Popular demagoguery ensures that the better off are pilloried, and the public votes itself largess that it simply does not have. Indeed, in the ancient world, it is largely accepted that while democracy in name means power of the people in the sense of majority rule, it so often translates into the power of the poorer classes.

The corrective is for a conservative minority to win over a majority by appeals to reason and moderation, to stifle public appetites, to honor traditional values, to remind us all of the tragic limitations inherent in the human experience.

But when that cohort proves inarticulate, or itself succumbs to greed and self-interest, or abandons its principles for short-term political expediency, then the bridle (to use a Greek metaphor) is lost. And the people are free to follow their natural inclinations. The results are often predictable soaring entitlements, populist them/us rhetoric, unsustainable debt, inflation, redistribution of income, and an unraveling of the social contract between the classes.

Once conservatives could not balance budgets, close borders, win wars or at least explain why they should be fought, then the country was bound to have one of its ‘once every thirty-years’ flings with radicalism. And as usually happens (cf. FDR and Jimmy Carter), we saw a radical progressive on the campaign trail sounding like a new conservative/liberal—as a mechanism once elected to enact radical social and political change unimagined by the electorate.

Our New Cleon

So the Bush-era inability to articulate positions, to balance budgets, to explain what we were doing in Iraq, to admonish Wall Street grandees to slow it down a bit, translated into Obamism.

By 2008, we did not wish to hear the surge finally worked and Iraq with it, that Bush gave billions to African AIDs relief, worked with allies, ran a clean government, and kept us safe from terrorist attacks for seven years. No, the country was angry for his lapses and was ripe for a Cleon right out of Aristophanes. And so again, we got Obama. And now the American public belatedly learns that the reaction to Bush is not balanced budgets, careful clear exegesis, but rather the Hollywood alternative of cap-and-trade, enormous tax increases, soaring deficits, nationalized health care, a general attitude that “they” owe “us,” and Europe is our model.

So we are experiencing a catharsis of sort. And, let us pray, for the next thirty years we will learn that if a candidate has no executive experience, had a history of eliminating his senatorial rivals through leaked divorce records, was the most partisan of some 100 Senators in his brief two-year tenure, had a disturbing affinity for radical anti-Americans like Rev. Wright and Bill Ayers, then he really was ruthless, largely inexperienced, and not at all convinced that America has ever been an exceptional nation.

So Where Are We?

We must remember that America is a naturally rich country. We inherited a lavish infrastructure. Our Constitution is singular. We largely solved the problem of a multi-racial, multi-religious society not devolving into the Balkans, Rwanda, or Iraq. Our higher education in the sciences is superb. American individualism is a magnet that draws kindred spirits the world over. Our military is 19th-century in its patriotic outlook, and 21st century in its competence. So the fumes of America are strong and can keep us fueled for a long time.

But like it or not, at some future date, we will lose what we inherited if we keep borrowing trillions. At some point racial identity politics will result in factionalism. No country can survive with open borders. An educational system that is therapeutic rather than knowledge-based will result in that terrible combination of an arrogant and ignorant electorate that becomes a mockery on the world stage.

And the Alternative Is?

*ochlocracy - a political system in which a mob is the source of control; government by the masses

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