Sunday, November 11, 2012

Goodnight, America?

Over at NR, Andrew McCarthy reminds us yet again what 'conservative' really means these days. And British ex-pat Charles Cooke explains why he despairs.

From McCarthy:

The brute fact is: There are many people in the country who believe it makes no difference which party wins these elections. Obama Democrats are the hard Left, but Washington’s Republican establishment is progressive, not conservative. This has solidified statism as the bipartisan mainstream. Republicans may want to run Leviathan — many are actually perfectly happy in the minority — but they have no real interest in dismantling Leviathan. They are simply not about transferring power out of Washington, not in a material way... today’s Republicans are champions of massive, centralized government. They just think it needs to be run smarter — as if the problem were not human nature and the nature of government, but just that we haven’t quite gotten the org-chart right yet.

That is not materially different from what the Democrats believe. It’s certainly not an alternative. For Americans who think elections can make a real difference, Tuesday pitted proud progressives against reticent progressives; slightly more preferred the true-believers. For Americans who don’t see much daylight between the two parties — one led by the president who keeps spending money we don’t have and the other by congressional Republicans who keep writing the checks and extending the credit line — voting wasn’t worth the effort.

Those millions of Americans need a new choice. We all do.

And from Cooke:

If we are to lose America as it has been, could we not ask that it be lost to something better than this? Our president, a Narcissus masquerading as a Demosthenes, makes big speeches packed full of little ideas, and he is applauded wildly for it...Only in a society that has lost touch with the ancient and is reflexively in love with the new could such a man be considered to be an inspiration. And yet, he has now won twice...This year, certainly, was not the perfect storm of 2008. Then, novelty and redemption played a role; this time, an insipid bore ran on an openly statist platform and won the day in a country that is supposed to be "center right." Maybe it no longer is. In 1980, when faced with a set of policies that demonstrably hadn’t worked and a president who wanted to take America leftward, America chose a different path; in 2012, it doubled down. That says a lot about a people...Economic gravity will prevail, as it always does, and it will eventually yield another conservative president. Indeed, the nature of the two-party system all but guarantees it. But this won’t do much good in and of itself. The growth of the state is a one-way ratchet, and its size and intrusion are almost never retrenched. Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1788 that "the natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground." "A government bureau," added Ronald Reagan, "is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth."

I quite earnestly believe in all of the stuff that I’m not supposed to. I believe that America is exceptional; that it is an objectively better nation than any other that has ever existed; and that it is, as it was explicitly designed always to be, the last, best hope for mankind. As Winthrop’s sermon poetically put it, America is the "Shining City upon a Hill," there so that men without liberty have somewhere to turn and a light that they might follow. I followed that light — 3,500 miles from my friends and my family — because I believed that my life would be better here, because I wanted to be free, and because I felt that under American liberty I would be able to be myself more honestly and more fully. There is nowhere else I could have gone. Alas, there is nothing written in the stars that says that America will always be America

I feel their pain. For most of my life I had always thought, like Cooke, that this was the greatest country in the world. You would expect a child to believe this, but even when I rebelled against it in the vapidity of my youth, I knew that it was. Even as I joined the crusade for sexual liberation, I knew what kind of girl I wanted to marry, and what kind of girls I'd want my daughters to be should I have any. I was a hypocrite. We all were. My generation, the spoiled ingrates of the sixties. We released the demonic impulses which previous generations had had the good sense to keep under restraint. Later, some of us wanted to round them up and throw them back into the pit they came from, but it was too late. Now they rule as the guiding spirits of our age.

I think the abiding sense I had of things was that, whatever our differences, we all knew that tyranny was our common enemy, and that we stood as one against it. To be an American - whether Catholic, atheist, Protestant or Jew, Democrat or Republican - was to share the conviction that all our lives were precious, that we'd take care of each other when the chips were down. There was no talk of abortion. Any word of contraception (I'm not even sure I knew the word at the time) came by way of the occasional friend who'd pull a rubber out of his wallet while informing me he was going on his date that night well prepared. Big talk, lots of it, but much less action. Girls simply weren't as loose then, and when they drew the line, we dared not cross it. That all changed rather suddenly, then evolved slowly until today such sordid matters as were seldom allowed in adult conversation we now take for granted. We even encode the sordidness into law, via Supreme Court rulings or state constitutional referendums. The sex, the contraception, the abortion, the weirdly concocted forms of marriage - those things that formerly were mentioned only in whispers, or in jest, usually in the form of dirty jokes, we now claim as natural rights granted to all men. All the filth is now good clean fun. It's as though some dictatorship of the sexually anarchist proletariat has risen up to proclaim its own triumph. It's not quite what Lenin had in mind, but it will prove just as ruinous. The whole Western world is tossing aside its patrimony, its tradition, its history, like crumbs to the dogs. This is something new in the world, in which a tyranny ascends to power by first exalting the individual's right to a liberty without limit.

I try not embrace Mr. Cooke's despair too fully, but there it is. It is distressing to think - though an almost certain fact - that my children will not live out the fullness of their adulthood, and that I will not be allowed to die, in the same country I grew up in. Maybe I only thought it was that country, while it was really something else all along.


TS said...

Powerful post Bill. I;m rethinking my assumptions of this country. Either it's changed and changed awfully fast or maybe all along I was naive in thinking we were really any different.

This election certainly *feels* like a milestone, as if we're a different country now even though, now that I think about it, I might have been similarly exasperated and shocked by the fact that a liar and perjurer could beat a war hero (i.e. Clinton over Dole).

William Luse said...

Well, TS, it's both. We *were* different, but now we're a different country. And yes it's happened awfully fast.

I once thought that Clinton's election was the sign of our end. He had a huge tolerance for abortion and Hillarycare. But then along came George Bush and I thought, "Well, maybe we'll turn back in the other direction." But then came Obama, who also defeated a war hero, nurturing an appetite for governmental interference and unfettered abortion such as we've never seen. He also flew under Christian colors while advocating policies designed to devour the whole of Christian morality. But the people don't care. There's a different bunch in charge now. I don't know exactly what's driving them, but they're not casting their votes to preserve the principles that once made us great.

When my parents had a choice between, say, Adlai Stevenson and Eisenhower, they didn't have to ask themselves: "Is this guy going to fundamentally transform America?" They knew that both were good men, that both knew the common enemy, and that they shared the same moral inheritance. That seems to be gone now, or at least severely adumbrated.

Lydia McGrew said...

The Clinton administration was indeed a big watershed. I remember thinking at the time that the media were becoming even more Orwellian and blatantly just part of the campaign propaganda for one side than they'd ever been before. Of course that's continued now. Also, the Clinton administration both reflected and furthered the disdain for truth that was becoming widespread in America. Clinton was a true postmodern President, with his "What does 'is' mean" stuff. I remember hearing or reading about some set of talking heads who were quite calmly and without condemnation discussing the mechanics of how Clinton got away with lying and sort of admiring how clever he was about it and how people didn't seem to mind so long as he was charming about it. (I don't recall the details.) It chilled me to the bone. Essentially, the idea was that there really wasn't much outrage over Clinton's telling lies as President, that people sort of admired him for being a clever rogue and smiled *at the very moment* that he was lying to them.

The Clinton administration was also a watershed in that the Republican Party and the pro-life movement were very beat-down by eight years of Clinton. After that they took a distinctly more conciliatory and less demanding approach to their own candidate. I think the loss of the White House after the Bush I administration (which was in no small part due to the economy and also to Ross Perot, who may have been the biggest spoiler candidate in U.S. history) made them think that we conservatives need to be more willing to compromise. In fact, Paul Weyrich wrote a column or "open letter" or something in which he more or less apologized for having been critical of Bush I and thus perhaps helped to cause the Clinton win. (I keep bringing this up in comboxes but haven't been able to find it again.)

In some ways, I see the Obama win as a continuation of trends begun in the Clinton administration, though in Obama's case of course the race factor is a _huge_ additional thing.

William Luse said...

Also, the Clinton administration both reflected and furthered the disdain for truth that was becoming widespread in America. Clinton was a true postmodern President, with his "What does 'is' mean" stuff.

That's the guts of it. And guess what generation he belonged to: mine. I think I referred to him in a long ago post as the apotheosis of the sixties revolution, the narcissus mainstreamed, the juvenile psychopath who thinks it's only "bad if you get caught" finally installed as a model to emulate. Truth hasn't had many good days since. Obama's a dissembler as well, and the people who voted for him know it.

There's also compellingly anguished personal testimony from one woman that our former president was a rapist. I imagine he's comfortable with the Democratic rage against conservatives who don't support the abortion exception in that instance.