Herbert London is the 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.
The Rise and Fall of a President
However one chooses to evaluate the mid-cycle 2010 election, there is only one logical conclusion: the repudiation of President Obama and his policies. It was not only what happened at the polls and the transfer of power in the House of Representatives, but investors led a rally with the Dow industrials rising 64.10 points the day after the election results were announced.
President Obama's ascent from obscurity to prominence was predicated on a calculated expression of bipartisanship, of bringing Americans together. His descent from prominence to political ignominy is based on narrowly focused partisanship, willful debasement of "enemies" and a display of arrogant leadership.
The wholesale Republican victory in the House represents a shift as significant as any in the last 60 years. Moreover, Republicans gained gubernatorial seats and Senate seats as well, albeit Senate control was beyond their reach. Most significantly, those Democrats who ran in relatively safe seats but were ardent supporters of President Obama were, defeated. For example, Virginia Representative Rick Boucher, a rock-solid supporter of the president, went down to a surprising defeat. Representative Alan Grayson, a hard-charging liberal and ardent Obama acolyte, also lost, despite national support from liberal organizations.
What this portends for the future of this republic is unclear. Will President Obama triangulate, as Bill Clinton did after his electoral loss in 1994, or is he so driven by ideological passion, he cannot do so? Will a divided government set the stage for stasis with little legislative activity or will this lead to a bipartisan alliance of the moderates in both parties leading to surprising activism?
The one overarching issue that seemingly united Republicans with many Independents and Tea Partiers is opposition to Obama's healthcare legislation. Whether accurate or not, there is the widely held perception that a bureaucrat in Washington will be determining the nature and duration of your treatment should it be necessary. As a consequence, many believe freedom is imperiled and the expansion of government into a command economy is the direction of the future. Will the House leadership take advantage of this sentiment by refusing to appropriate funds for Obamacare?
What this election indicates is that the public does not accept the "change" Obama promised and has acted on it. America is a place different from the president's understanding. Most people are patient and reticent to turn on a president they once supported, but Mr. Obama has introduced reforms so extreme and a financial commitment so dire that John and Mary Q. Public are in open rebellion.
It is instructive that the president has consistently made claims he has been unable to justify. For example, the stimulus package was brokered as a way to create jobs, but the unemployment rate has actually increased despite the federal expenditure. The president has consistently ignored or repudiated America's allies and has embraced the nation's enemies, but there isn't any evidence this has reduced global tensions.
At the moment, President Obama has opened a credibility gap as wide as the Grand Canyon. The Independents who initially supported the president and accounted, in no small part, for his electoral success, have turned against him. They do not accept his rhetoric and question his decision-making capacity.
The question that remains is whether the Republican Party is prepared to take advantage of this electoral shift. Can the party design an agenda consistent with "the tail wind" this election has provided? Can the Republicans be more than the Party of No? Can they avoid being the villains in a scenario the president constructs that sets the stage for his reelection in 2012?
It is hard to answer these questions at the moment, but the election opens the door to electoral opportunity. It is now incumbent for Republican leaders to walk through it.
A Tea Party Beyond Boston
"They are extremists"; "they are pawns of the Republican party"; "they are revolutionaries"; so it goes with strident leftist attacks on Tea Party adherents. Alarmed at the expansion of the federal government since 2009 and frustrated by the Obama administration's redistribution schemes, many Americans have taken to the streets.
Most of these people were apolitical before the intrusiveness of Obama political tactics. And, despite what many in the media assume, the majority of these Tea Partiers are Independents and Democrats (Republicans constitute 48 percent of the total).
Since the protests began, liberal groups have tried to deny that this is a genuine grassroots movement. They contend that it is a creation of corporate interests and is motivated by racial hatred. But up till now, this effort to discredit the Tea Party has not worked.
The Tea Party is by no means a carefully organized association; it is held together by a devotion to fiscal responsibility, limited government and personal liberty. If there is one issue that unites Tea Partiers it is opposition to Obamacare, the administration's healthcare bill which relies on enormous expenditures, expansive government, and a bureaucratic approach that limits personal liberty.
Despite the more general critique of present political conditions, the Tea Partiers also agree on several specific matters: enactment of a flat tax; sunset provisions on laws passed by the Congress; constitutionality tests for all proposed bills; statutory caps on federal spending; imposition of a moratorium on earmarks; and repeal of the proposed 2011 tax increases. Yet these positions do not constitute a separate party platform; they are merely the issues Tea Partiers employ for solidarity and as instruments for influencing the major parties. As one Tea Party acolyte noted, "The Tea Party movement is not about a party. . . it's about finding candidates who are constitutionally minded and fiscally responsible . . . and helping them win."
Whatever the actual intention, people like former President Bill Clinton seemed to equate the Tea Party rhetoric with the hatred that inspired the Oklahoma City bombing when he warned against "crossing the line" that separates anti-government protest from advocacy of violence. However, as someone who has attended Tea Party events across the country, I have found most adherents to be modest in their advocacy and responsible in their behavior, notwithstanding the occasional inflammatory statement. At no point have I ever heard racist commentary of a general nature or a specific racist allegation directed at President Obama. Even Vice President Biden cautioned against resorting to racist claims about the Tea Party.
By reflexively rejecting the Tea Party movement, Democratic Party candidates and office holders are alienating independents whose votes they often need to get elected. An ABC News/Washington Post voter opinion poll found that six in ten registered voters do not have faith in the president's handling of the economy, and many in this category are sympathetic to the Tea Party movement.
A Rasmussen poll found that 41 percent had a favorable impression of the movement and 46 percent believed it was beneficial for the nation (only 31 percent described it as "harmful"). It would seem that insulting the Tea Party hasn't discredited it in the public imagination. On the contrary, the Tea Party has become the inspiration for grassroots political action across the country.
When Satirists Dominate the Culture
In what can only be described as the corruption of politics, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert had a "Sanity Rally" recently to energize Democrats and counter the Glen Beck "Restoring Honor" rally conducted in August. With an unofficial crowd estimated at 200,000, Colbert launched the event by arriving on stage in a capsule like a rescued Chilean miner from an underground bunker. He pretended to distrust all Muslims until basketball legend Kareem Abdul Jabbar, who is Muslim, came on stage. "Maybe I need to be more discerning," Colbert mused, then turning to Stewart to scold: "Your reasonableness is poisoning my fear."
For many at this rally, it was an opportunity to take control of the political narrative, if only for one afternoon. The liberals had their moment in the sun. Absurdist views along with protest placards seemed to suggest frustration with the leadership in the Democratic party that many described as timid, fearful, and unwilling to stand behind President Obama.
Alex Foxworth, a 26-year-old doctoral student from Richmond, Virginia, summed it up by noting: "The battle for the American mind right now is between talk show hosts and comedians. I choose the comedians."
Alas, that is precisely how many in the nation view politics of the moment. All aspects of life from campaigns to social exchange have become a form of amusement. Serious discussion is immediately thought of as ideology and hence rejected as bias and propaganda. In the final volume of Winston Churchill's The Second World War there is a subtitle "How the Great Democracies Triumphed and So Were Able to Resume the Follies Which Had so Nearly Cost Them Their Life." The rally in Washington was merely one manifestation of the follies. It was not an isolated event, but rather part and parcel of a pattern found in all of the mass media: continuous amusement.
Hilaire Belloc, observing this contemporary condition, said:
We sit by and watch the Barbarian, we tolerate him; in the long stretches of peace we are not afraid. We are tickled by his irreverence, his comic inversion of our old certitudes and our fixed creeds refreshes us; we laugh. But as we laugh, we are watched by large and awful faces from beyond: and on these faces there is no smile.
Yes, we laugh at the comic inversions and excoriating certitudes; we admire the comedians. But there is a backdrop for this rally of satirists; it is comprised of historical forces that often do not take kindly to the destruction of normative judgment. It is especially harsh with the display of hubris that the gods never forgive.
In writing about The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism Max Weber noted that in the final stage of this evolution, it might truly be said:
Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved.
Is this where we are at the moment -- laughing at the nullity and assuming we have reached a higher level of civilization?
Oscar Wilde once argued that "When bad ideas have nowhere to go they gravitate to American universities and become courses." Surely there is truth in this claim, but only a partial truth. Bad ideas emerge as satire when the nation engages in nervous laughter about what to believe, and comedians provide the course for the future.
When every condition is a joke, the nation is in trouble. Americans need relief from quotidian tension; they also need serious reflection on the present state of affairs.
You have undoubtedly heard of existentialism, a philosophical position based on personal choice without the benefit of normative judgment. I reject it since driving through a red light is hazardous to your health.
However, I am a resistentialist, an eponymous condition in which adherents categorically reject the fatuities of modern life. Let me cite several examples.
Automobile manufacturers produce a car with 300 horsepower that can easily achieve speeds of 120 miles per hour so that the car can remain stalled on the Long Island Expressway during rush hour.
Art is often described as post-modern, a school that has flash but no pan. However, if modern is new, how can you be post new? In fact, at what point does new go post?
Texting is the communications channel of the young. But from what I can discern it is an addiction to banality since the text hasn't any substance and the language is puerile shorthand, e.g., RUOK?
The iPod is one of those devices that permits cultural toxins such as rap music to enter the brain without filter. It inflicts a form of Parkinson's disease on its adherents who find it very difficult to stand still.
These examples are the symptoms of modernity that resistentialists oppose. Fortunately personal liberty suggests you don't have to drive a car with a turbo engine or admire Michael Graves' architecture or use a handheld device to communicate or put any electronic wiring in your ears. But it is hard to avoid the conditions of modernity since they are osmotic, in the cultural air surrounding us.
Hence resistentialists must be tough-minded cultural snobs who reject the lure of advertisers and marketing mavens. They are obliged to write their own social scripts. "I won't go there; I won't touch that item" is the lamentation of resistance.
When the pressures are great and they will be, especially as the teenage daughter demands her own iPad, the emotional test begins. If the resistentialist concedes he will become a "resentialist," browbeating himself for the concession. If he doesn't concede, the children will harangue and display the unadorned bad behavior their uncivilized friends will encourage.
There aren't many triumphal moments for the resistentialist, but the few he does experience are memorable. I recall with satisfaction my resistance to the plasma screen TV. After all, I noted, is it really so different from the conventional color TV? "Well," said the salesman "Yes, it is different and it will change the nature of viewing." I wasn't about to change my viewing patterns and would certainly not do so for $2500. So I resisted. A year later this same television set sold for $2000 and despite entreaties from my family, I remained firmly opposed. By the third year the price was $1200 and I conceded, but at least I had the satisfaction of knowing my resistance saved $1300. Needless to say, others didn't see it that way. "Dad, you denied us three years of viewing pleasure." That was the price they had to pay for my resistentialist dedication.
I doubt my obdurate stance will catch on as a public philosophy. Camus and Sartre need not worry about the rise of resistentialism as an antidote to their existential views, but one never knows. I am confident there are others who see the silliness in so much of modern life. But I should note, before you get the wrong idea, that there is much about modernity I embrace including freedom and even many aspects of technology. I am not a Luddite; modern toilets suit me very well.
But absurdities abound. I would like to know what "free range" chickens do that chickens in a coop do not. I would like to know why a player has to dance in the end zone if he scores a touchdown? And I would love to know why the brim of a baseball cap is now worn on the side of one's head.
I resist all of this, all of the absurdity that accompanies contemporary life. And I have incorporated my beliefs into this philosophical stance. I don't know if I can stick to my guns, but you can be sure I intend to try. Viva resistentialism! *
"The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave." --Patrick Henry
We would like to thank the following people for their generous support of this journal (from 9/13/2010 -- 11/15/2010): John D. Alt, George E. Andrews, William D. Andrews, Ariel, Gordon S. Auchincloss, A. D. Baggerley, Douglas W. Barr, George L. Batten, Charles Bescheidt, Georges A. Bonnet, Peter Boosalis, Wesley Borntrager, Patrick J. Buchanan, Price B. Burgess, William C. Campion, Dino Casali, Garry W. Croudis, Betty G. Davis, Dianne C. DeBoest, Peter R. DeMarco, Francis P. Destafano, Alice DiVittorio, Don Dyslin, Nicholas Falco, Joe Fetzer, Joseph C. Firey, Nansie Lou Follen, Donald G. Galow, John B. Gardner, Robert C. Gerken, Gary D. Gillespie, William B. Glew, Mart A. Grams, Hollis J. Griffin, Joyce H. Griffin, Richard P. Grossman, Violet H. Hall, Weston N. Hammel, Bernhard Heersink, Jaren E. Hiller, John A. Howard, Thomas E. Humphreys, David Ihle, Burleigh Jacobs, Edgar Jordan, Margaret Kearney, Robert E. Kelly, Frank G. Kenski, Joseph D. Kluchinsky, Gloria Knoblauch, Charlesd B. Koehler, Robert M. Kubow, Mark S. Laboe, Alan Lee, Mildred S. Linhof, Gregor MacDonald, Cary M Maguire, Roberta R. McQuade, Eugene F. Meenagh, Woodbridge C. Metalf, Albert D. Miller, David P. & Barbara R. Mitchel, Jerry W. Moore, Robert A. Moss, John M. Nickolaus, David Norris, King Odell, Michas M. Ohnstad, Harold K. Olson, Clark Palmer, Gregory J. Pulles, Jack Rice, Paul T. Riel, Patrick L. Risch, Irene L. Schultz, Harry Richard Schumache, William A. Shipley, Elsbeth G. Smith, Lee Stoerzinger, Michael S. Swisher, Taki Theodoracopulos, Paul B. Thompson, Pat Tinucci, Elizabeth E. Torrance, Thomas Warth, Thomas H. Webster, John V. Westberg, T. James Willett, Gaylord P. Zabulba.