FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
2014: Victory on a diminished battlefield
Polls pop up here and there, auguring an even worse shellacking for Democrats in 2014 than they received in 2010. The problem is that Republicans stand to win a bigger victory on a diminished battlefield. The Left has worked hard to contract the boundaries of change. Much of what has happened since 2010 was meant to be irreversible.
The American people should not accept that, of course. We are not meant to be eternal vassals to edicts written by some long-ago session of Congress. The franchise of a sovereign people is not limited to choosing a few new deck hands on a ship of state whose course cannot be significantly corrected. There are no “settled laws of the land,” and none of our generation’s great debates is “over.” Our future can only be chosen for us if we allow it.
The problem is that we have allowed it. Big Government has been granted enough power to engineer its electorate. It’s no surprise the American people have been re-designed into a more hopeless, submissive populace, more accepting of dependency and coercion. We have been remade by rulers who believe we will never have the strength to remake ourselves.
We’re more comfortable with the idea that government should provide not just a “safety net” for the truly desperate, but various forms of collectivist insurance against the routine hardships of life for the middle class. Almost everyone gets a subsidy for ObamaCare. The Medicaid welfare system now includes a large number of people who were presumed capable of seeing to their own needs just a few years ago. The number of people judged unable to feed themselves without the assistance of the State has exploded. Rolling back this expansion of dependency will be portrayed as unspeakable cruelty. We will be told that only the gullible would be willing to trade cold, hard welfare cash for promises of “opportunity,” and only predators would offer them such a trade.
We’ve gone from hopes of becoming an “investor society” with a broader public connection to the economy, to an environment in which the middle class has been frightened out of the markets, and told to hate those who remain. We are less likely to hold assets, and more likely to be deep in debt – our young people stroll into the world with a ton of it strapped to their backs, from their effort to obtain college degrees that do little more than qualify them to fill out resumes that no one will read. The number of people with no meaningful connection to the labor market has grown. This makes it easier for the Left to sell its message that free markets are a jungle in which the little people are devoured, and politicians offer the only safe haven.
Having been persuaded to accept a New Normal of weak economic growth and high unemployment, we’ve sacrificed the ability to judge government policies as ruinous. If this is as good as it gets, and it’s not the government’s fault, then it must be our fault; we must no longer be the productive and ambitious nation we once were. It was a hideous mistake to swallow that poisonous idea and re-elect Barack Obama, instead of demanding better.
Culturally, we have become more comfortable than ever with the notion that speech and thought must be controlled. The letter of the First Amendment against direct government censorship is still grudgingly respected – although the bureaucracy is always looking for ways to slip past that barrier – but the spirit of free expression and robust dissent has grown difficult to find. One side effect of President Obama’s push for unitary executive power – the God-King who only gets to rule for eight years, with a single electoral challenge halfway through his reign – is that it supports the tyranny of the majority. Presidential elections supposedly constitute a national referendum on everything. (At least, they will until a Republican wins one.) The debates that Congress should be having are derided as “gridlock” and “obstructionism.” The electorate is more inclined than ever to see coercive government action as the only form of meaningful action; the only way to express proper concern about an issue is to support billions of dollars in spending and regulation to address it. Dissent is viewed as thwarting the will of the majority, a counter-revolution we just don’t have time for, because so many people cry out for protection only the State can provide.
Most disturbingly, the people have become too bitterly polarized to trust each other. The Ruling Class has become shockingly comfortable with attacking not merely their political adversaries, but the supporters of those adversaries. Accusations of dreadful crimes against humanity, such as racism and sexism, are flung casually around the public square without a shred of evidence. The burden of proof lies with the accused, who are indicted collectively rather than individually, making innocence difficult to demonstrate.
The American ideal is to be a people with a government, but the reverse is now decisively true. All things serve the State. It has money and power undreamed-of in the time of our grandparents. At the same time, our expectations of government performance, transparency, and accountability have been lowered. We have been taught that no program can fail badly enough to be terminated, no member of the aristocracy can suffer defeat if his or her intentions were “good,” no helping of liberty taken from the private sector can ever be returned, and the State can never run out of money. Neither budgetary reality, nor the legal limits on power, can be allowed to stand in the way of a politician’s noble agenda. Conversely, the Ruling Class cannot be compelled to perform any legal duty it finds distasteful.
We are tolerant of arrangements between politicians and moneyed interests that would have been denounced as fetid corruption not long ago. Political connections have become the most precious resource in the economy, which naturally diminishes the value of all others. We are told we must erase both the consequences of failed risk-taking, and the rewards of success, which inevitably causes risk to become less respected and valuable. “Equality” is now an outcome the government imposes, not an opportunity it protects. The hoary old left-wing academic notion of “justice” as a political construction has been deeply implanted in our society, so that we accept unfair treatment of people who have done nothing wrong in the service of cosmic “fairness.”
In a representative republic, it stands to reason that changing the government requires changing the minds of the people – they must vote to install reformers, and vote again to support their reforms. But how can we change the minds of a people who have already been so thoroughly reprogrammed through the exercise of government power? That daunting challenge cannot be met by half-hearted Republicans who accept many of the ideas installed by liberal social engineering… who have made their peace with the rotting edifice of an insolvent system… who wish to protect the little fiefdoms they have carved out. The only way to bring down the walls of confiscation and regulation marking the new, shrunken boundaries of American prosperity is to strike them at their foundations, boldly challenging the entire ideology upon which they were built. The message that must go out to the American people, not just in the 2014 elections but over many years to come, is revolutionary:
You are not weak, sick, or timid.
You are more resourceful and visionary than the political class that serves you.
Your ambitions should not be subject to the judgment of the State, as long as you respect the rights and ambitions of others.
You are entitled to equal opportunity, not guaranteed equal outcomes.
You are the solution to America’s problems, not a problem for the political class to solve.
You are the full and righteous owner of your labor, property, and the fruits of their investment.
You are free, and responsible, in precisely equal measure.
You are not the twilight descendants of a nation that was once much greater.
The government is the duty-bound guarantor of our equal liberties, not the avatar of our collective will.
It would be nice to fill Washington with politicians we can trust, but it is absolutely mandatory for them to trust us.
It’s not enough just to take the Senate away from Democrats to punish them for ObamaCare and five long years of grinding non-recovery. This is about making America great again, not humbling a few dishonest politicians. That’s not a quest that will end with any single election. Possibility is not swiftly reclaimed, once it has been lost. May our children never forget that, as we did.