Herbert London is author of Decade of Denial (Lexington Books) and most recently America's Secular Challenge (Encounter Books), and publisher of American Outlook. He can be reached at: www.herblondon.org.
I Lost My Country
The results are in and my candidate lost the presidency. Since I love this country, I wish the newly named President Barack Obama every success. But this was an election unlike any other. I don't think the Republicans merely lost an election, I believe many of us lost a country.
This was a land that once rewarded hard work and enterprise; a place where one's word was his bond. America was the land of opportunity. If you can't do it here, you cannot do it anywhere. We were a people to be envied, not only because we had the highest standard of living, but because we had the greatest degree of stability.
Americans were notoriously optimistic because we counted on tomorrow being better than yesterday. We were an open people dependent on fair play and a free market bounded by a standard of virtue. With all the blemishes in our past and breaches in our own ethics, we were a model of civic rectitude. "Dems that gives, gets"; those who wish to bilk the system will be discovered and isolated.
There was a time not so long ago when people did not depend on government to bail them out of financial difficulty, a time when the nanny state bred apprehension, not affection. Now, it seems, in the new America almost everyone wants a free ride. The non-taxpayer wants a rebate from the taxpayer. The poor man wants everything the rich man has and he wants the rich man to give it to him.
Enemies of the nation, it turns out, are not enemies at all; we merely defined them as adversaries. Had we been clever in the past, we could have defined them out of existence. All we have to do is engage in "soft power," diplomacy and clever negotiating skill. Surely those who want to kill us will be persuaded that swords should be converted into plowshares. It's odd, but Osama bin Laden doesn't seem to embrace this position.
The America of "now" is one where Orwellian logic rules. Redistribution of wealth is fairness. Taxes are patriotic. The free market should be a regulated market. Big government is good for you. Politicians know what kind of healthcare is best for you. Choice should be limited, except when it comes to abortion. Power comes from being powerless. Progressive education is designed to promote progress toward socialism. Race doesn't count unless a person of color tells you it counts. Higher education gets lower each year. Those who create our problems should be asked to solve them. Religion should be a private matter that does not inform public morality. Liberal is radical. Free speech is selective speech. Courage is impetuousness.
Yes, Americans -- many Americans want change. The level of dissatisfaction runs deep. But the national cri de coeur hasn't a direction. That's what makes it so dangerous. Americans live better than at any moment in our collective history, notwithstanding the meltdown on Wall Street, yet despair is ubiquitous. Admittedly observing 401(k) accounts disappear like soap bubbles will make anyone angry. Nonetheless, it is a privilege to live in the land of the free, a privilege now regarded as an entitlement.
It was once wrong to use community groups such as ACORN to steal an election. It was once wrong to conceal one's past in order to invent an identity. It was once wrong to use the instrument of government finance to satisfy a constituency and then claim an unregulated market is what ails us. It was once wrong to lie in a campaign and still is, except when the media panjandrums avert their gaze for the lies of a favored candidate.
Surely we face threats across the globe that cannot be easily forestalled. Arguably the most significant threat is from within in the form of an unregulated government, a government large, intrusive, and seductive. This is the new American government that promises everything and demands very little from its citizens. "Shop until you drop" is the national anthem. After all, you don't have to fight if you don't want to and you don't have to sacrifice if that's too much for you. All you have to do is visit malls and keep opinions to yourself. Opinions are important since Truth Squads want to be sure you don't criticize the chosen candidate.
Where is my America, the place of fair play, individual rights, the rule of law, and respect for private property? Was the past merely a dream from which I have awakened? Can that America of exceptionalism return? Can it find its way back into the public consciousness?
I have my doubts. Now the change agents scream "everything will be different." Alas, they are right. It appears as though everything will be different, most especially the end of an America I loved.
The American Socialist Republic (?)
For decades Americans have been seduced by government programs. In fact, any modification in them is greeted with fear and loathing -- this is the so-called third rail in American politics.
While these programs have emerged incrementally, socialism or government control of the means of production was routinely shunned. That was "the European sickness," and the more Europeans captured private capital, the more this capital crossed the Atlantic to the United States.
Now, however, with bipartisan efforts, the United States is unavoidably on the road to socialism. A Republican president and an establishment figure on Wall Street, his secretary of the treasury, have nationalized the banking industry in response to the meltdown in the credit market.
In creating a new fund within Treasury, Washington bureaucrats will decide what debt instruments to purchase and how to manage and eventually sell them. They will also make massive purchases of bank stocks, guarantee bank loans, and compete with sovereign wealth funds.
Moreover, the Republican candidate for president could have opposed this move, standing apart from President Bush and his Democratic rival. But he chose not to do so.
In addition, Senator McCain has adopted a "cap and trade" energy position which would add yet another layer to the Washington bureaucracy and another source of government regulation.
On the Democratic side, Senator Barack Obama has indicated he wants "to spread wealth around," a statement that smacks of redistribution. Moreover, his "tax rebate" to 95 percent of Americans includes payments to 44 percent of the Americans who do not pay taxes. Why should you get a tax rebate if you don't pay taxes? And why call this a rebate at all?
From his healthcare position to his desire to increase the tax rate and capital gains taxes, Obama is, at his very core, a redistributionist. Rather than economic growth, his economic policy is based on the distribution of existing resources. Is it far fetched to describe this as "from each according to his ability to each according to his need?"
What is unfolding is the nightmare of government control of most industries. Can the airplane and car companies sustain themselves without government subventions? Will healthcare remain privatized? Will hospital care be rationed?
A Democratically controlled Congress will be eager to extend its influence with politicians becoming the chief arbiters in the economy. Rather than having a third of gross domestic product as public expenditures and two-thirds private, these numbers are likely to be reversed.
As a consequence, the United States' economy will begin to resemble the European model. Growth will be stifled, unemployment will inevitably increase, incentives will diminish along with venture capital, and the standard of living Americans have enjoyed will decline. This is not a prediction based on my vivid imagination, but one predicated on empirical evidence of socialist economies.
Labor unions will assert themselves with the avoidance of the secret ballot and the ability to negotiate rules between unions and management, and radical organizations, such as ACORN, will demand their pound of flesh from the government as well. The scenario demanded by the hard-core left for decades will finally be realized.
While it is true, as Senator Joe Biden invariably points out, that one percent of the population controls 22 percent of the wealth; it is also true, but never mentioned by Biden, that the same one percent accounts for 37 percent of tax revenue.
The continued taxation of capital only drives it out of circulation. While the sin of capitalism is greed, the sin of socialism is envy, in large part because limited resources lead to a situation where modest differences in income tend to be exaggerated and invidious. Schadenfreude is the natural consequence of socialism.
Is this narrative overblown? Perhaps, but if one would have told me ten years ago the banking industry would be nationalized I would have assumed the claim was hallucinogenic. America has enjoyed decades of extraordinary wealth based on the virtues of a modified free market. Yet some believe the "unregulated market" is to blame for our present woes, notwithstanding the obvious fact that the market operates with thousands of rules and always has. One might more appropriately blame intrusive and misguided politicians for the present market turmoil.
The danger of democracy is that public participation is vulnerable to demagoguery and a free-rider syndrome. Economic egalitarianism is irresistible for those who have relatively little and long for more. This is a natural temptation but one that was largely resisted until this most recent presidential campaign. Now socialism is on the rise as the philosophy of free market capitalism is considered the culprit for economic woe.
Will this stance change America forever? Is this merely a temporary aberration borne of financial dislocation? Or has envy already insinuated itself into the national culture?
Perhaps Americans should recall what Abraham Lincoln noted about economic distribution: You can't make a weak man strong by making a strong man weak and you can't make a poor man rich by making a rich man poor.
Nuclear Disarmament from the Gang of Four
There is a campaign underway by self-described foreign policy realists, including Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn, William Perry, and George Schultz, to abolish nuclear weapons. These establishment figures contend that the major nuclear-armed powers must promote a vision of a world devoid of these weapons of mass destruction. Who can blame them? With proliferation, the likelihood of actual deployment increases dramatically.
As a wish, perhaps a dream, this proposal makes sense, but as a policy it would eviscerate the security of the West with unpredictable consequences for the future.
There is nothing certain about these weapons except their frightening destructive capacity. From the beginning of the nuclear age there has been a debate about their ability to deter conventional war or whether there is an ethical argument for their existence. But whether one likes it or not, they are here and any unilateral effort at nuclear disarmament is not likely to effect the behavior of other nuclear powers.
In fact, whatever the realists call for is decidedly unrealistic since they haven't posited a "zero" end game. Until recently the abolitionist position was considered naive. Now, however, there appears to be a renaissance for global disarmament, albeit the debate and energy behind it all seem to come from the United States.
According to the group of enumerated realists the globe is at a crossroads: If nuclear proliferation is to be thwarted, states possessing nuclear weapons will have to embrace their abolitionist vision starting with the U.S. as the exemplar.
While this is the goal, there is the recognition that in the short term complete disarmament is unattainable. Calling for the unattainable, however, serves as a catalyst for what they believe to be the attainable. One might describe this strategy as employing utopian ends for pragmatic means.
Nonetheless, it is worth noting that since the realist group is so highly regarded, the proposal has had a momentum of its own that often overlooks the pragmatic dimensions of the argument. Moreover, the onus is put on the U.S. to take the lead in the disarmament movement, notwithstanding the role the U.S. has played as a nuclear umbrella for several non-nuclear nations.
Moreover, once the movement for disarmament starts, can there be an intermediate step before the zero end game is achieved? The pressure in Western democracies is likely to be inexorable, a condition unlike that in the globe's tyrannies. There is a distinct possibility that the call for disarmament could undermine the delicate security arrangements the U.S. organized over the last half century. After all, non-proliferation, to the extent it has worked at all, is due to America's protective umbrella. Japan, Turkey, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, to cite several examples, have not joined the nuclear club because of U.S. assurances.
As I see it, the call for nuclear disarmament is not merely utopian, but dangerously so, notwithstanding the belief that it will engender pragmatic decisions along the way to a "zero" solution. A transformation in the U.S. and Western nuclear defense posture will not in the end trigger a reciprocal response from Iran -- should it obtain nuclear weapons -- or North Korea, since their regional influence is determined by the existence of these weapons.
Nuclear weapons are indeed frightening and from a moral standpoint unjust, but unilateral disarmament does not make the globe more stable or just. In fact, it may invite an entropic response as those with these weapons attempt to intimidate those without them. Balance of power politics does leave civilian populations hostage to the threat of incineration, but imbalanced politics leave nations vulnerable to tyranny and enslavement.
Clearly the Europeans who embrace "soft power" will respond favorably to this proposal. But if they get what they wish for, Europe could be defenseless against radical and imperial forces and this time the United States might not be in a position to bail them out.
Exceptionalism vs. Universalism
From the mouths of adversaries occasionally appear pearls of wisdom. Writing for the Herald Tribune (9/25/08) Roger Cohen contends that Sarah Palin is on to something "in her batty way" when she describes America as exceptional.
This idea has certainly been around since the Founding and was kindled by Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy In America. In my judgment Sarah Palin was right to discuss it because this election could turn out to be a plebiscite on this very issue. Cohen may call her "batty"; I call her description accurate and intelligent.
Barack Obama is the quintessential transnational progressive, a one worlder, who despite his proclaimed love for the United States, is far more interested in connection to the globe than in distinctive American qualities. Hence his self-description in Berlin as "a citizen of the world" and his repeated denunciation of the United States in his memoir Dreams of My Father.
Of course, Mr. Cohen claims Obama is tomorrow and McCain-Palin yesterday. But what Mr. Cohen may not realize is the dichotomy he describes was an essential feature of American life from the 19th century to the present. Like it or not, one can easily make the case that American institutions are unique and the ideology that led to their creation set the United States apart from other people.
Clearly Mr. Obama's hard-core left-wing background militates against the appreciation of this idea. For him, technology has created porous geographic boundaries, and a world connected as never before. It is instructive that when asked if new immigrants to America should speak English, he argued Americans should learn Spanish. This is indeed universalism with a vengeance.
Overlooked in the Obama worldview is that his rights and privileges emerge from his American citizenship. He doesn't receive rights from the United Nations or the International Court of Justice. It is an oxymoron for him to describe himself as "a citizen of the world." But this is consistent with his anti-foundational logic that assumes a neutral stance vis-a-vis the United States, one that refuses to consider American exceptionalism.
How can he when his weltanschauung is based on a repudiation of the nation state? His view is predicated on a tolerance for all cultures, but a fundamental critique of ours. This is the so-called non-ideological, nonjudgmental stance.
In a sense this is a European view that tribalism must be broken, replaced by a grand design. That design, of course, is the European Union. But the conditions that hold it together remain obscure. To what would a European owe his allegiance? And for what would he sacrifice?
If one were to transmogrify Europe into the United States, a glimpse into the Obama plan can be seen. The new America is a globalized America, one that closes the door on deep-seated national sentiment.
Without the national transcendence one finds among exceptionalists there are only bloodless abstractions on which the nation depends, e.g. Social Security, Medicare, progressive education. Why should Americans defend these benefits and abstract ideas when they are merely contingent values?
People do not sacrifice blood and treasure for contingent values. Unfortunately the difference between exceptionalism and universalism is not well understood and, astonishingly, Mr. McCain has not exploited the difference, Sarah Palin to the contrary notwithstanding.
My guess is most Americans still embrace the notion of American exceptionalism, even with the well-rehearsed imperfections in the American system. But if Americans lose faith, if they arrive at the conclusion history is not on our side, universalism might seem a viable alternative world view.
Economic reversals have accentuated this issue, but that too will pass. What won't pass is the Cassandras who want to bring into focus a new American nation, one linked to global entities yet no more desirable or unique than its national counterparts. *
"Christmas casts its glow upon us, as it does every year. And it reminds us that we need not feel lonely because we are loved, loved with the greatest love there has ever been or ever will be." --Ronald Reagan