Herbert London is president emeritus of Hudson Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America).
Why a Campaign Should Consider More Than Economic Issues
Bread and butter issues will undoubtedly be emphasized in this presidential campaign season. The unemployment rate, the need for jobs, the rapid growth in dependents, fiscal deficits, and the enormous debt overhang will garner headlines in the weeks ahead. But there are other issues the nation must confront. While on some fronts the government cannot do much, campaigns are a venue for the airing of ideas, a time to educate and persuade.
There is little doubt the economy is teetering on the precipice of despair. The Republican team has an obligation to explain how it intends to fix or at least mitigate what ails us. It seems to me it is also time to discuss cultural degradation, a gravitational pull that is sinking American standards into the sinkhole of perversity. Increasingly media myrmidons push the envelope of acceptable behavior to a point where taboos themselves are called into question.
Clearly a government cannot and should not impose cultural standards on its citizenry. However when mephitic gases are in the air, protective devices are necessary. How does a nation defend its freedom when it is intoxicated by noxious fumes from television programs and Hollywood fare? I don't expect Romney-Ryan to have a magic elixir for this contagion, but I do think it would be useful for the campaign to address and acknowledge this issue.
Similarly foreign policy matters rarely win campaigns. Voters prefer local issues and, after all, Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan are far-away places. But are they? The Obama team has little to say about foreign policy because with President Obama at the helm, the world is chaotic.
* Iran is about to obtain sufficient refined fissile material to build several nuclear weapons.
* Egypt is moving rapidly into the dictatorial hands of the Muslim Brotherhood.
* Syria is in the throes of a civil war with at least 18,000 people killed by Assad.
* Afghanistan is reverting back to control by the Taliban, despite heroic efforts by the U.S. military to halt this tide.
* China is asserting its naval muscle by occupying contested islands in the South China Sea.
* North Korea threatens new nuclear tests.
And whether justified or not, the present administration has created an appearance of complacency, almost a casual belief that this mess will sort itself out without American intervention. This isn't merely leading from behind; it is an allergy to leadership.
Romney-Ryan should emphasize the need for leadership to fulfill a yawning vacuum in international affairs. Most foreign nations fear U.S. weakness more than U.S. strength. Reestablishing that strength is a message this Republican team should convey, not only to assure Americans that we intend to fulfill our leadership role on the global stage, but also to convince our allies that we haven't abandoned them.
Last, as I see it, the presidential campaign should be a time to restore hope, notwithstanding the overuse of this word by Barak Obama in the last presidential campaign. Hope is the real harbinger of change. For years Americans have been beaten down from "malaise" to "decline." It is time to remember our better nature, these animal spirits in our national DNA that offer pride and determination. We should embrace the future because we can shape it. Decline is indeed a choice and Romney-Ryan should say we reject it. America is not exceptional like other nations, it is the first among equals, the shining city on the hill that inspires freedom loving people everywhere.
We need a dose of optimism instead of emotional band-aids. And a campaign is when it is best to let this inspirational fury fly. Of course, there are the cynics who will reject this rhetoric as jingoism. But after the battering the American ethos has endured, it is time for optimism, time to rekindle the very character that goes to the heart of "we the people."
The Second Law of Thermodynamics and the Body Politic
The Second Law of Thermodynamics, which suggests that physical forces are gravitating to entropy, is a perfect metaphor for the moment. European economies are cascading into the netherworld of insolvency even as governments deny the reality. President Obama seemingly defies the rule of law by issuing executive orders that bypass the Congress. Unemployment in the U.S. remains over 8 percent for the 42nd straight month. And unemployment in Spain for those under 25 is at 50 percent.
That isn't all. Iran, China, and Russia have agreed to joint military maneuvers off the coast of Syria in an effort to bolster the Assad regime. And the U.S. is on the sidelines issuing empty platitudes about the ongoing butchery dictated from Damascus. Iran is moving closer to refined fissile material for several nuclear weapons as futile talks continue on the disarmament front.
Missiles are being fired from Gaza into Israel on a regular basis with more than 300 launched in the last two weeks. Evidence has been unearthed that Chavez, the president of Venezuela, has been underwriting the activities of narco-terrorists in Colombia and throughout the South American continent.
Extremist parties are gaining traction in Europe, a scenario reminiscent of the 1930s. The neo-Nazi party garnered 7 percent of the recent Greek vote. The Communist party is gaining adherents in France. Radical Islamists have safe houses all over Western Europe from Malmo in Sweden to Hamburg in Germany and Antwerp in Belgium. To the astonishment of those who adhere to Christian traditions, sharia has been gaining ground as a legal defense in many quarters including the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Educational attainment has been plummeting throughout the Western world, a form of international dumbing-down, despite a widespread belief in self-esteem. Notwithstanding the economic miracle in China, that nation remains a police state capable of violating human rights routinely and when the government considers it necessary, brutalizing is own people. But since the U.S. position is compromised by the assumption of debt in China, not a cross word about human rights violations is uttered.
The world is afloat in sovereign debt. Accumulated debt in the U.S. alone is more than 100 percent of the gross domestic product and climbing. A similar situation can be recorded in Japan and throughout the Western world. An entitlement psychology has brought financial markets to their knees, but few have the political will to tell electorates the truth.
A belief in the Judeo-Christian virtues is waning. Relativism has reared its head as a prevailing philosophical view leaving its admirers subservient to those committed to a belief system. "Anything goes" is not merely a once popular song, but a commitment to a way of life that rejects regulation, limits, and tradition. The boundaries that defined normative behavior have been shattered by the relativist orthodoxy.
A Wall Street Journal editorial refers to a leaderless globe. Alas this is true as the U.S. withdraws from its role as the international "balance wheel" and there isn't an alternative anywhere in the G-20. A world without leaders is a world on the brink of anarchy.
As Evelyn Waugh once noted, "Once the prisons of the mind have been opened, the orgy is on... ." Well those cell doors have been opened and unleashed is a moral tsunami whose full effect we cannot yet detect. However, surrender to the forces of despair is at least partially evident. I often hear people say, "What can you do?" as they shrug in acquiescence. Perhaps it would be useful to recall that Charles Peguy argued "Surrender is essentially an operation by means of which we set about explaining instead of acting." Indeed it is words we hear, more words from talking heads on television and Washington leaders, but action is conspicuously avoided. The words are soothing as an astringent on a humid day, but ultimately they are delusional. The beast in the body politic has not been defeated and he is restless.
Why Is the World Different?
An enraged madman kills a dozen people and injures many others in a carefully planned mass murder in an Aurora Colorado movie theater. What can one possibly say? So desensitized by stories of brutality on the nightly news, my emotions are muted. It seems to me that on first blush the nation is becoming coarser, more susceptible to the inner beast, that evil lurking in the hearts of men.
Was there a time of innocence? Perhaps not, but surely there was a time not so long ago when people helped their neighbors, left their doors unlocked and didn't listen to rap songs that encourage rape and the killing of cops. A dark cloud has moved over the culture that avoids any taboos. It pushes past normative standards so that violence through video games and television programming is in the cultural ambiance.
The world is different with an emotional apocalypse seemingly in our midst each day. Nightly news is filled with horror stories; the more lurid, the more likely it will be aired. Audiences are told "If you are squeamish, you shouldn't watch the next few scenes." For many this is cultural catnip. Push that envelope to new and more extreme positions and then contend that the issue is guns. Surely even Mayor Bloomberg, the arch defender of gun control, must realize a gun in the hands of St. Francis is not a weapon. Guns don't fire on their own; someone must pull that trigger.
The one word that won't be employed in all the accounts of mass murder is "evil." We rationalize. The fiend must have had a relational set-back. His parents mistreated him. School officials took his scholarship away. Who knows? The one thing we do know is "evil" will not cross the lips of the talking heads. After all, we are now all psychologists seeking fundamental answers for the inexplicable.
Goethe's Mephistopheles does have an answer that he offers to Faust.
I am the spirit that denies!
And justly so, for all that time creates,
He does well who annihilates!
Better, it ne'er had had beginning;
And so, then, all that you call sinning.
Destruction - all you pronounce ill-meant,
Is my original element.
Evil and destruction go as hand and glove. The fortunes of the evil spirit are found deep in the human spirit. We can control and subdue or release and avert our gaze. At the moment, I believe, we choose to do the latter. Mephistopheles is on center stage; even the Batman who fights to save Gotham is a "dark knight" hidden in the shadow of his own despair.
Our heroes are caught in the gravitational pull of a zeitgeist that is often degrading. And these are the heroes. Imagine the feral children unschooled and unsocialized facing the lure of the licentious calling. Their hand on the trigger will assuredly lead to annihilation.
Yet the pundits tell us they know what is wrong. Confiscate the guns, they say. But does confiscation result in the evanescence of evil? Easy answers never reveal easy solutions.
Freidrich Nietzche argued, "Those who know they are deep strive for clarity. Those who would like to seem deep to the crowd strive for obscurity."
And so the obscure keep us confused in a cave like the one Plato described where we see only shadows on the wall. We can't admit to ourselves that evil is in the air we breathe; we have allowed it to be unleashed. We cannot admit that mass murderers do the devil's work reducing sin to religious mythology. The radical secularists want to unfetter the limits of liberation and, alas, they have been successful. Now we reap the results.
Yes, the cultural world is different. In the Freudian escape from the bonds of tradition, we have unleashed a beast from deep in our souls. He is troubled and we are in danger.
From Social Security to Federal Benefit
In the parlance of Orwellian newspeak words often mean the opposite of their seeming intent. The Internal Revenue Service is anything but a service. Now we have yet another government inspired contradiction. Social Security has been transformed into the "Federal Benefits Payment." One might well ask how an insurance arrangement in which the recipient makes payments throughout his working existence is regarded as a "benefit." Whatever happened to "earned income"?
At the moment employees pay 15 percent of their income before taxes to the Social Security administraation. If one assumes a $30K payment per year and an employer's contribution of $375 per month at a modest 1 percent rate compounded over a 40-year work experience the total would be $1.3 million. In this scenario, you can assume withdrawal of 3 percent a year or $39,318 or $3,277 a month or roughly three times the present average Social Security "benefit." Moreover, using the more generous number the individual fund would last 33 years or until a 65-year-old retiree is 98 years old.
Why then is the system bankrupt? Why aren't payouts more generous? The answer in simple terms is that the government uses your money elsewhere. Social Security is not secure, is not really a benefit and, if there were any truth in advertising it should be described as a Ponzi scheme in which money "in" pays for money "out" without regard to the consequences of a deficit.
Where does this money go? Since this appears to be a pot of unexpended and reliably available funds, the Congress uses it for everything from highways to helicopters. Unfortunately the money is not in a locked box, so expenditures are often predicated on an anticipated source of S.S. payments. The money is often accounted for before it has been received. Close to 40 percent of the accumulated debt in the U.S. (now at $15.9 trillion) can be attributed to the S.S. shortfall.
It is also true that many receiving this "benefit" never contributed a dime to Social Security. These are people on disability (SSI) or those suffering from drug dependency. Many do not live in the United States but still are receive monthly payments. Mexico City alone has more than 1500 people receiving S.S. checks.
While most Americans have Social Security payments taken out of their paychecks, there are many who do not participate. Here again the term security is a misnomer. Social Security is anything but secure.
Orwell would have a verbal party with government titles, but the latest plan to convert Social Security into Federal Benefit Payment takes the cake. Obviously these verbal alternations are designed to confuse the public and in far too many cases it works. This is not merely lamentable; it is a reflection of a government that has little respect for the public it presumably serves.