FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
Carterism revisited, Thatcherism needed
Kevin Williamson has a great piece at National Review explaining why the Left hates Margaret Thatcher so much. (Enough to throw parties celebrating her death, followed up by a bit of light rioting and looting.) In short, Williamson says Thatcher earned the undying animosity of the Left by making them look silly, and having a good time doing it. In other words, she challenged their legitimacy.
The Left is big on asserting that there are no morally legitimate arguments against their positions. Every word said against them is born of greed or mindless hatred. It doesn’t matter if the practical results of liberal policies fail to meet expectations – it doesn’t even matter if things spiral into outright disaster – because the alternatives are unthinkable. They really hate when their own legitimacy is questioned in turn, particularly when someone like Thatcher or Ronald Reagan does it with a smile and a well-turned phrase.
Williamson compares the Thatcher and Reagan approaches by recalling the failure and repudiation of Jimmy Carter, in a manner that rings true for this fellow child of the Seventies:
As a child in the 1970s, it was clear to me that something was very wrong with the world, and very wrong with my country. The first political sentiment I can recall is feeling sorry for Jimmy Carter. He was the president of the United States, the most powerful man in the world, but he was held in contempt, the intensity of which remains clear in my memory today. My parents were not political people, and their friends were not political people, but they had very strong feelings about President Carter. I can remember my older brother reviling President Carter, and he was not yet ten years old. The trouble had something to do with prices and something to do with oil, which seemed strange to me: We were surrounded by oil wells in West Texas, but there were lines at the gas stations. We were surrounded by farms, but my mother was very much occupied with the price of food.
The election of 1980 was not just a vote — it was a repudiation: of Carter and Carterism, of weakness, of decline.
But now weakness and decline are back, baby, and there’s no sign of a Carter-style mass repudiation. Barack Obama’s Hospice America is filled with mostly contented clients. A few rage against the dying of the American light, but most have accepted the New Normal. A dead-parrot economy with permanent high unemployment, the bureaucratic nightmare of ObamaCare, foreign policy slipping ever further from America’s grasp… it’s the best we can do. It’s all we deserve.
Obama’s personal approval ratings remain mysteriously buoyant, even as the public turns away from him on every issue. Not much in the way of tangible success is expected from this President, because his moral argument against the old, free, energetic America has been accepted. ”Fairness” is more important than enterprise. The modern American voter can digest Carter-style malaise, provided it has been spread thin enough.
That’s the trick, really. The costs of Carterism – the signs of his failure – were too obvious, too annoying. Obamanomics is more subtle. Americans are paying far too much for gas these days, but in the Carter years you couldn’t get gas. Obama’s foreign policy is a shambles, but we’re not tuning in to nightly images of blindfolded diplomats being hauled through screaming crowds by terrorists. Food inflation 2013-style means the price on the package remains the same, but there’s less food inside. The tax bite has been successfully hidden from much of the populace – they pay far more in hidden taxes and regulatory costs than they realize. Job-killing government policies have not been placed at the crime scene, and many of the jobs vanished without leaving corpses behind. How much of the general public truly understands the scale of the workforce decline we have suffered under Obama? How many of them realize he’s literally returned us to Jimmy Carter’s workforce?
Leftist policies are all about concentrated benefits and diffuse costs. The benefits are easy to see, easy to trace back to the benevolent State. The costs are spread thin, ideally hidden behind layers of indirect taxation and regulation that conscript private-sector corporations as the State’s assistant tax collectors and enforcers. Obama perfected this art, to the point where he can still claim nothing bad is really his fault, and one more “pivot to job creation” should unleash that “recovery” we’re always “poised” to enjoy. Wouldn’t Jimmy Carter have loved to be able to blame his failures on his predecessors!
We need a good stiff dose of Thatcherism to penetrate these layers of obfuscation, and challenge the moral legitimacy of an agenda that has already failed by every practical measure. Today’s Republicans are often nervous about deploying moral and emotional arguments, either because they think it’s beneath them, or they’re afraid it will blow up in their faces. But such arguments have to be made, because there we find what Sun Tzu would have called the “fatal terrain” of the Left: the ground they cannot afford to lose. They can survive charges that their plans are not working, especially since they get a lot of help from the media, but they can’t survive the charge that their plans are wrong. Voters respond to passion and moral certainty… and also notice their absence.
Today’s 20-minute Power Point presentation on the national debt will be forgotten in a few hours, but people are still quoting Thatcher decades later. I suspect, in the week following her passing, that a good number of young people will hear her words for the very first time and think, “Wow, she was awesome. Why doesn’t anyone talk like that any more?” That is a very good question.