Different Visions

There is no doubt that the onset of the Obama administration has energized conservative intellectuals. A year ago conservatives were trying to reconcile themselves to the McCain candidacy — an eventuality that filled us with dismay as we contemplated yet another fake conservative presidency and the further dilution of the Reagan brand of conservative republicanism. Then, as the threat of an ultra-liberal Obama presidency loomed larger in the summer and fall of 2008, we exhorted ourselves to a more fervent support of John McCain — realizing that his election, dismal as the prospect might be, was the only hope of preventing the catastrophe that we believed an Obama presidency promised. But our hearts were not in it. When Obama triumphed, we licked our wounds, muttered pathetic excuses like ‘Bush and the Republican Congress brought this on with their profligate spending and betrayal of bedrock conservative principles,’ and took some solace from the ‘moderate’ or’ centrist’ feints that Obama engaged in during the transition period. We were hoping against hope that the newly arrived messiah — a designation not inappropriate to the manner of treatment accorded him by the media — might turn out to be more of a pragmatist, perhaps even a centrist, than his meager record and public utterings predicted that he would be. The dispirited nature of many of our columns, blogs and op/ed pieces during that period reflected the depth of our disappointment, the dejection we were experiencing and the slim reeds of hope at which we were clutching. Alas, not surprisingly, the reeds were ephemeral and the age of Obama has ushered in precisely the far left agenda that we feared.

Therefore, we are no longer able to deceive ourselves that President Obama might govern to some extent like Clinton did — i.e., from the center (sort of). And worse still, the new messiah might not — as many of us hoped — turn out to be as incompetent as the feckless Jimmy Carter. So now that we are truly frightened by the prospect of the great damage Mr. Obama might wreak in the next four or eight years, our juices have started flowing again, our batteries are charged and conservative outlets are overflowing with spirited, passionate and fervent pleas to the American people to recognize Mr. Obama for the dangerous, leftist radical that he surely is and barely attempts to conceal.

The examples are legion, but I would like to cite one specific piece by David Limbaugh in the Washington Times (3/28/09) entitled ‘Capital Arrogance.’ There is much in this trenchant column that highlights the threats posed by Obama and his Congressional allies, but I wish to focus on one specific paragraph:

The liberals see they now have a chance to actualize their vision for an America remade in their image and radically at odds with the vision of this nation’s Founders. It doesn’t matter that there couldn’t be a worse time in our history for implementing their reckless policies. They know they may not get another chance in their lifetimes to work such mischief. Even though it will break the federal bank, us, our children and our grandchildren, it’s all going to be OK because they will finally have achieved their statist vision for America.

There are four critical points raised here by Limbaugh:

  • Obama and his liberal henchmen have a fundamentally different vision for America from that of our Founders.
  • They perceive that this period presents them with perhaps a unique opportunity to implement that vision.
  • The damage to our country by the actualization of that vision, while calamitous at any time, will be especially bad at this time because of the severe economic distress in which we find ourselves.
  • The Obama regime is oblivious to the consequences that the realization of its vision will have on the people of our country; its adherents care only that their utopian dream of a society of equals (their brotherhood of man), guaranteed by an all powerful, ‘benign’ State, is in their view the right way to organize society, and that even if it means a lower standard of living, a diminished status in the world, and an erosion of our individual liberties, the new society will be a far fairer, more just and healthier nation than it was or ever could be under the old system.

Unfortunately, Limbaugh, like many conservative pundits, offers us little or nothing in the way of advice for preventing the calamity that he so acutely predicts. Many fear– and I worry that they might be correct — that there is no forestalling the radical remake of the USA that the age of Obama will usher in. Well, I am not ready to surrender just yet. I would like to make a strategic suggestion for combating Obama’s false nirvana. But before I do, let me say a little more about Limbaugh’s four points — especially the first and last.

Different Visions. One could go on at great length here; let me just say that the Founder’s vision of the USA incorporated: a limited government, empowered primarily to ensure the liberty of the people — thus, to defend the homeland, maintain the worth of the currency, guarantee the validity of contracts, ensure the rule of law, and not too much else; a virtuous populace, whose morals were derived from traditional Western religion and whose primary organization was based on the family (in the classic sense); an economy characterized by free markets and democratic capitalism; checks and balances between the federal government and those of the States, with all unenumerated powers reserved to the States and the people; a set of precious individual rights (life, liberty, freedom of speech, assemblyand religion, and the right to bear arms) that could not be circumscribed by the government; and a respect for and adherence to the Constitution as the fundamental law of the land that could only be altered through an elaborate process, which required a broad consensus of the people.

Obama’s and modern liberals’ vision of America is totally different. In short the fundamental guiding principles are not liberty and freedom, but rather equality and fairness; they take their inspiration from the ideals of the French, not the American Revolution. These include: a benign, but very powerful central government that sets and enforces the rules for virtually all aspects of American life; the elevation of tolerance, a non-judgmental perspective and equity far above all else in determining relationships between people; the belief that inequalities between individuals that result from a free market system are absolutely unacceptable and thus the economy must be strongly regulated — and occasionally controlled — by the government in order to spread the wealth and promote the three principles above; the certainty that American culture is no worthier than any other, therefore merits no celebration and should in fact be infused by cultures from around the world; conflict resolution by negotiation only and a strong aversion to military force — even in defense; the further belief that religion is superstition and inferior to rationalism; all forms of family structure are as valid as the ‘traditional’ family; and finally, the Constitution is a ‘living’ document that guides us but does not bind us.

The two long lists above could be fleshed out further, but you get the idea. Plainly, these are starkly different visions for the future of America.

Unique Opportunity. Due to the egregiously poor performance of the Republican Party (in both the executive and legislative branches) over the last decade, the electorate grew fed up and installed an ultra-liberal regime to govern the country. Something like this has happened three times in the last century — the administrations of Wilson, Roosevelt and Johnson. (The analogy is imprecise.) Liberals look back on these as golden ages; conservatives view them as tragedies that have had permanently devastating consequences for American society. We largely avoided permanent tragedies in the last two Democratic administrations – because Carter was incompetent, and Clinton was not a fanatical true believer; besides, he was checked by Gingrich. But today there is no Gingrich, no Reagan, and the overwhelmingly liberal Democratic Party has a good chance to bring about a fourth great leap to the left in America. They sense — not without justification — that this leap might put America irrevocably over the top. Social justice will reign and individual liberty will be a memory, and there will be no going back. They might be right — we will know soon enough.

Special Circumstances. Here I don’t see eye to eye with Limbaugh. Yes, Roosevelt engineered his leap to the left during the Depression and he used it for cover to enact his socialist programs. But both Wilson’s and Johnson’s surge to port were perpetrated in not particularly perilous times. Yet they both still managed to leave us with a sorry legacy. We are still coping with the tragedy of the 16th Amendment to the Constitution that enabled the federal income tax. And the social, moral and economic havoc that resulted from Johnson’s Great Society continues to poison our nation. Obama will almost certainly, like Roosevelt, use the current economic crisis as an excuse to enact his ultra-left program for America. (After all, his right-hand man, Rahm Emanuel, has already informed us that this crisis is too great an opportunity to waste.) But economic distress or not, whichever of Obama’s socialist, collectivist, egalitarian and pacifistic policies he is able to implement will be calamitous for America, even if the Stock Market was not doing a swan dive and the Mullahs were not splitting the atom.

Liberal Motivation. In this fourth point, Limbaugh is spot on. How can anyone survey the history of liberalism/socialismin the world over the last century and not conclude that it has been an abject failure? In its mildest form, Euro-socialism, it has resulted in the decaying societies of Western Europe — plagued by low birth rates, out of control welfare costs, high unemployment and low productivity, inability to project force and defend themselves, and a growing, subversive immigrant population that is needed to fund the entitlement programs. Canada fits that model as well. In its most virulent form, Nazism and Communism, it has resulted in horrors almost beyond human imagination. Well, I believe that liberals can ignore these results and continue to have faith in their leftist ideas for one of three reasons. Either the liberal is blind to the damage; or he sees it but believes the principles have not been applied correctly and that America is a special case in which liberalism can co-exist with classic American ideals in order to improve our country; or he flagrantly does not care.

In the first instance, much of the populace simply does not recognize or does not understand the wreckage of liberalism’s failures. They are so brainwashed by the media, the schools, the librarians, the ad agencies, the lawyers, the foundations and all the other opinion molding organs that have been thoroughly captured by the Left, that they believe — among other fairy tales — that Roosevelt’s New Deal pulled the US out of the Great Depression; that Great Society programs have produced a more just society — not one characterized by welfare dependency, out of wedlock births, rampant pornography, a permanent underclass and wanton crime; and that the Income Tax and the alphabet soup of federal regulatory agencies allow the Federal Government to assume its rightful place as the most important component of US society, providing vital support for education, energy, transportation, housing and virtually every other facet of American life. In the second instance, we encounter the ‘well-intentioned liberal.’ The Democratic Party is well-stocked with them. They are confident that they can fine-tune and spruce up American society according to more humane egalitarian principles in order to smooth the rough edges caused by rugged individualism. They do not believe that the fundamental character of the American experiment in freedom will be altered by their policies, rather it will be perfected. We will acknowledge our past flaws like slavery, maltreatment of American Indians and suppression of women’s rights, and by correcting them and other deficiencies in our society, we will create a more enlightened country that remains true to its fundamental creed as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. Finally, in the third case, doctrinaire liberals/socialists do not care about the carnage because they would have you believe that America is an unjust, unfair, bigoted and corrupt nation that must be completely remade. They do not see prosperity and success as the nation’s primary goals, rather equality and fairness should reign supreme. Liberty and freedom are not nearly as important as social justice, multiculturalism and environmental justice — whatever that is. In which of these three categories Obama fits is a topic for a future article.

All that said, what is my strategic suggestion for turning the tide? The inspiration comes from the enemy. How did we reach this point? Why do the consequences of the Reagan and Gingrich Revolutions seem so meager today? Reagan won the Cold War, rebuilt America’s economy and restored the military. Gingrich — admittedly with Clinton’s help – balanced the budget. How did the Left bear those defeats and rise to the seemingly impregnable heights it occupies today? I believe the seeds were sown roughly a century ago, to a great extent by the socialist, Italian philosopher, Antonio Gramsci, who preached that the way to convert the democratic, capitalistic countries of Western Civilization into socialist utopias was to capture the culture. Take over all the prime cultural institutions of the nation, convert the people to believers in the new culture and the politics would surely follow. Whether on purpose or inadvertently, that is exactly what the Left did. Led by early revolutionaries like John Dewey, Upton Sinclair and Woodrow Wilson, followed over several generations by Roosevelt and the New Dealers and then Johnson and the 60s radicals, the Left took control of all the organs of society that determine the culture: the media, educational system, legal profession, foundations, mainline churches, even big business to some extent. When the average American believes that abortion is a fundamental right, that the wall between church and state should be insurmountable, that Hollywood starlets have something to say about politics that is worth listening to, that it is alright for politicized teachers to have more influence over children than their parents, that soft core porn is acceptable fare for 8PM TV, that business is greedy and the government is competent and fair, that it is OK for athletes to tattoo their bodies, strut like peacocks and be role models for our children, then what chance does conservative politics really have against the liberal onslaught? With that cultural background it is not surprising that people vote for Barack Obama andNancy Pelosi.

So what are we to do? Take back the culture! Simple to say; hard to do. Yes, we have to continue to do battle in the political arena. Reagan’s and Newt’s victories in the political and economic spheres were fantastic. But these two gentlemen did not seriously contest the cultural battlefield. And without some advance in that arena, we are seeing that the political and economic victories cannot be consolidated. They are swept away by the influence of the filthy cultural tide that blankets America from the Left. We tend to see the battle between the Left and the Right as a political battle between liberals and conservatives. It is. But it appears that it is more fundamentally a social, cultural battle. It is good to know that Edmund Burke’s ideas can defeat those of Voltaire, that Adam Smith was wiser than Karl Marx, that Milton Friedman outshines John Maynard Keynes. The problem is that no one on the Right has taken on Gramsci. We need to have conservative philosophers and cultural icons that state the case for and epitomize the worth of traditional Western culture. More mundanely, we need to nurture conservative film makers, fund conservative law schools, build conservative foundations (like Heritage, but more of them), defend and expand talk radio, establish conservative newspapers (like the Washington Times, but more of them), concoct an organization to counter the NEA in the minds of the country’s teachers, abandon the mainline churches and support religious institutions that champion traditional values, etc. It might take a hundred years to achieve success; after all it took the Left a century to reach the dominance it currently enjoys. If we don’t do this, then the America that we have loved and which has proven to be such a boon to the peoples of the world will surely — perhaps slowly, but maybe not so slowly — wither into one more Euro-socialist State. Then the light from mankind’s last best hope will have gone out.