One overarching theme and three difficult questions occupy my thoughts as Obama prepares to assume the mantle of the Presidency.
1. This is indeed a moment of great pride for America.
2. What does it now mean to assert that America is a center-right country—an assertion bolstered by the exit polls in November which revealed that, as has been the case for decades, far more voters characterize themselves as moderate or conservative than liberal—given that we have enthusiastically turned the executive and legislative branches of the Federal Government over to hard-core liberals?
3. What were the long term effects of the Reagan and Gingrich revolutions of 1980 and1994? Have the consequences of those epic electoral landslides been completely swept aside by an Obama/Pelosi/Reid tidal wave?
4. What’s a conservative true-believer to do now?
1. Aside from the politics, the divisiveness, the potential for sweeping changes in the American political, economic and cultural spheres, there is no question that January 20, 2009 will represent a momentous and historic achievement for the United States of America. Barack Obama is not the descendant of American slaves. In fact he is of mixed racial parentage and his black father had no trace of American blood. But Obama considers himself, and he is considered by the electorate to be an American black man, and it is as such that he has attained the Presidency.
The past treatment of the black race in these United States is a shameful blot on the history of our country—a part of our history that has tormented our society for generations. That torment has been greatly alleviated by Obama’s election. The non-black portion of the electorate (white, Hispanic, Asian) has proclaimed that the mal-treatment of, and bias and discrimination against black people area thing of the past, and that America shall judge a black politician—and by implication, any black person—by that person’s credentials and character, not by his racial heritage. It is a goal achieved by precious few societies in the history of the world. That we can lay claim to the achievement should be a source of enormous pride to all Americans. It bears testimony to the uniqueness and greatness of our beloved nation. There is no longer any reason why any child in America cannot reasonably aspire to become President.
Of course, I wish that Obama’s political leanings were not so left wing. I would have been happier if Thomas Sowell or Clarence Thomas or Walter Williams or Ken Blackwell, or even Colin Powell or Michael Steele had achieved the heretofore unthinkable. Nevertheless, it does not change the fact that America has demonstrated its enlightenment and tolerance to the world, and I hope that the world appreciates it for the fantastic accomplishment it represents.
2. Conservative pundits have been consoling themselves and their loyal readers with the assertion that, despite the liberal electoral successes of 2006 and 2008, the electorate is still ‘center-right,’ and they point to the exit polls to back them up. I am not convinced that they should be so sanguine. Yes, your average voter thinks of himself as a moderate, maybe even slightly conservative. But I have come to believe that we have a truth-in-labeling problem here. Indeed, the notions of conservative and liberal have shifted drastically over the last century.
As I argued in my book, Liberal Hearts and Conservative Brains (iUniverse, 2007), the United States of America was basically a conservative country throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But beginning with the Progressive Era (encompassing the very liberal administrations of T. Roosevelt and Wilson), continuing through F. Roosevelt’s New Deal and reaching its previous apogee in LBJ’s Great Society, the USA has undergone a massive shift to the Left. Moreover, during the interim periods when conservatives or moderates led the country, little or nothing was done to reverse the trend. Thus the political center of gravity has shifted dramatically to the Left. What we consider moderate or even conservative today would have been pegged as flagrantly leftist 125 years ago.
Space prevents a full development of the previous claim. Let me simply say that if conservatism means: limited government; free market capitalism; respect for and adherence to traditional American/English culture; low taxes; a robust national defense; and individual rights, then it is anomalous that your average ‘moderate/conservative’ voter is perfectly comfortable with: a gargantuan government; extensive government regulation of business; gay rights, abortion and a porno-saturated media, one of the highest corporate tax rates in the Western world; a multi-lateral foreign policy; and group rights. Only flaming liberals are advocating: nationalized health care; industrial planning; gay marriage, gun control and the banning of religion from the public square; appeasement of Islamic radicals; soak the rich taxes; and world citizenship. But the latter causes are considered merely liberal, whereas the former are thought of as mainstream. On the other hand, basic conservative ideas such as: federalism and States rights; national politics infused by religious morality; free markets and free trade; restraint in public spending; a strong military; and an emphasis on individual liberty, ideas which were once considered mainstream are now viewed as ultra right wing. In other words, what was once denounced as left-wing socialism is considered mainstream liberalism; and what was left of center liberalism is now considered centrist or even center-right; and of course tame right of center notions are deemed to be retrograde fascism.
In short, I do not believe that we are a center-right country in any meaningful sense any longer. We might not have traveled Left as far and as fast as our cousins in Western Europe, but we are certainly headed in that direction. By any objective measure, Obama is further left than McGovern or Dukakis, both of whom were trounced by the electorate. Today, Obama is poised to assume the Presidency and the pundits are claiming—and the far Left is worrying—that he is really a closet moderate. Puleez! If Obama is moderate and our fake conservative president George W. Bush is a right-wing fanatic, then what in heaven’s name were Reagan and Gingrich? I suppose somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun.
3. Whatever they were, it would seem that Reagan and Gingrich were blips in the straight line to the Left that America has been trodding lo these 100 years. In fact Reagan was one of only two (perhaps three) genuinely conservative presidents we have elected in the last century. Calvin Coolidge was the other, and William Howard Taft was perhaps the third. Yes, our so-called center-right country has elected conservative presidents for perhaps 10% of the time over the last century, and only one in the last 80 years. Doesn’t seem like much of a center-right track record to me.
In that context, let me address then the question of whether Reagan and Gingrich had any lasting effect in arresting the liberal tide that has been sweeping the country for so many years. Reagan entered office with three major goals: (i) bring down the Soviet Union and end the Cold War in victory for the West; (ii) restore the American economy through lower taxes, less government spending and deregulation; and (iii) reduce the size and scope of the federal government. He succeeded brilliantly in (i), had a great deal of success in (ii) and failed completely in (iii). We enjoy today a huge reward because of his success in (i) as we have been freed from the nuclear terror of the Cold War. Of course a new evil threatens us in the form of Islamic radicalism, but so far it does not pose the existential threat that the Soviets did. As for (ii), we had a quarter century of barely interrupted economic prosperity due primarily to Reagan’s economic policies, but the streak might have run its course. The combination of foolish liberal policies—like making the privilege to own a home into an entitlement right—together with putative conservatives whose greed and stupidity converted liberal policies into flawed economic instruments, aided and abetted by spineless RINOs (i.e., Republican In Name Only), has caused the greatest real estate and stock market collapses since the Depression. And regarding (iii), well during and since the Reagan and Gingrich revolutions, the government has continued to grow at a phenomenal pace. Bill Clinton’s pronouncement notwithstanding, the era of big government is definitely far from over.
Only history will judge, and my pessimistic nature might be getting the better of me, but I am hard pressed not to conclude that today, 20 years after Reagan left office, the liberal mentality that governs the United States is stronger, more accepted as the norm, and poised to steer the ship of state as sharply to the left as it did during the Wilson, Roosevelt and Johnson administrations. The New York Times assures us that Obama, Pelosi and Reid are mainstream and that Dick Cheney, Clarence Thomas and Tom Coburn are dangerous right-wing fanatics. And a majority of Americans buy it. Sorry Gipper, but your influence appears to have been fleeting.
4. Finally, how does a conservative weather the onslaught? Is there any hope of reversing the 100 year trend, especially as it seems to be entering an accelerated phase? Many conservatives expect that Obama will prove as incompetent as Jimmy Carter and that a new Reagan will emerge to rescue us. Maybe. It’s nice to hope so. But Barack seems to me much cleverer than the anti-Semitic oaf from Georgia. Although both gained the presidency because the country was so fed up with what it had that it was willing to take a reckless chance on a complete unknown, I am not so sure that history will repeat itself. Eight years from now the liberal hegemony that we ‘enjoy’ might be even stronger. So by now you have guessed that I am not terribly optimistic about a conservative resurgence in America. In fact I agree with Thomas Sowell, the eminent black economist and journalist, who asserts that Obama’s election is historic for more than just the obvious reason–namely, ‘an Obama-Pelosi supermajority will mark ‘a point of no return.’ It will not be, as some naysayers scoff, ‘Jimmy Carter’s second term,’but something far more transformative.’ Alas, I fear he is right and it is just a matter of time before we become like Europe. Not a consoling thought when you contemplate where Europe is today and where it will be very shortly.
And yet! And yet! I am trying to imitate the Gipper and be cheerful and optimistic. America has faced grave crises before, from which it emerged stronger and more vibrant. We barely survived the Revolutionary War, but we did and over the ensuing 50 years we created the greatest experiment in human freedom the world has ever known. We barely survived the Civil War, although it took far too long to lay the ghosts of that conflict to rest. Nevertheless we emerged from that dreadful conflict and embarked on an industrial revolution that resulted in the most prosperous nation on earth, again in less than 50 years. Also over roughly a nearly 50-year period, America successfully absorbed and assimilated tens of millions of immigrants who, together with their descendants, not only enhanced our prosperity, but helped to create a world superpower. (Although, as I also argued in my book, it is those descendants who implemented the liberal ideas that their parents brought from Europe.) And finally, we saved the world twice in the twentieth century—from the scourges of Nazism and communism—and emerged as the sole superpower.
You will now charge that I seem to believe that the ascending dominance of liberal thought in America is equivalent to calamities like the Depression and world and civil wars, or has the potential for existential change like industrial revolutions or seismic cultural shifts due to mass immigration. And like the calamities or upheavals, America must rise up and either overcome the calamites or reverse the cultural upheavals, that is the liberal hegemony must be broken if America is to survive. Well yes, I believe exactly that. Let me explain why.
I believe and have believed for 25 years that European civilization is dying. The people of Western Europe are barely getting married, having hardly any babies, are surrendering their independence and freedom to a totalitarian entity known as the European Union, have virtually no military capability and are unable to defend themselves, have forsaken Christianity and converted their churches into museums, created an unsustainable welfare state that promotes laziness and moral sloth, and, worst of all, have imported millions of radical Muslims (to pay for their welfare state) who are not assimilating, but who will destroy what is left of European civilization from within. It is not a pretty picture. And that is what the liberal hegemony in America is pointing us toward. If we don’t wake up and recreate the conservative country that we lost over the last century, our fate will be the same as Europe’s. Europe has survived these last 60 years because we had their back. Who is going to have our back?
So having gotten that off my chest, what then is a conservative to do? Wait for doomsday, or try to take back the country? Do we even have a chance of taking it back? If one believes as the Gipper said, that ‘God had a divine purpose in placing this land between the two great oceans to be found by those who had a special love of freedom,’ that America has realized John Winthrop’s vision of it as a ‘shining city on a hill,’ and that indeed ‘America is the last best hope of man on earth,’ then one must have faith that we will come to our senses, a savior or saviors will emerge and we will recapture our commitment to individual rights, to liberty and freedom, to a government that serves the people and not the other way around.
So what is a conservative to do? Well I can only tell you what this conservative is increasingly doing. Some years ago I bought two CDs of Reagan’s most famous speeches. They sit with my collection of classical and jazz CDs that I listen to on my car stereo on my way to and from work. Periodically, I pop in one of the Reagan CDs instead of the music. They are inspiring and uplifting. The clarity of his thought is breathtaking. Lately, I have also started reading Reagan’s other speeches on various web sites devoted to his memory. A particularly good one is http://reagan2020.us/. To find others try googling ‘Reagan speeches.’ If we could get more people to read and listen to a few of his speeches on a regular basis, I believe it could enlighten people again and we might have a resurgence of faith in the classic, time-tested and successful ideas of conservatism. So, to those reading this, mention this idea to your friends, your kids, your coworkers. You have nothing to lose but your country.