(Remember Your Servants, O Lord)
Sunday, November 11, 2012
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Well, TS, it's both. We *were* different, but now we're a different country. And yes it's happened awfully fast.
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.
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.