A Weak U.S.
The next president will have to get serious.


Conrad Black

The United States, viewed from outside, is almost sleepwalking into a post-American world, with practically no audible awareness that this is happening. It may be that the media and government of the country are now so completely in the hands of people who think America’s prominence in the world is a bad thing, or think that a retreat to America will release more resources for addressing domestic problems, that a general retreat of the U.S. in the world is not judged newsworthy. More vigilant and traditionally patriotic and optimistic Americans dissent from this silence, and they also largely refrain from the ceaseless mantras about America’s greatest years’ being ahead of it (even though, as Marco Rubio and others assert, it has long been “the greatest country in human history”).

One of the observers most sensitive to the constant evidences of this decline is Peggy Noonan, the blithe spirit and fine wordsmith who was once Ronald Reagan’s speechwriter, and writes now in the Wall Street Journal. Her column on June 1 was headed “An Antidote to Cynicism Poisoning.” She again deplored the disgraceful abandonment of the besieged consulate in Benghazi, which cost the lives of the ambassador and three of his officials, and she was annoyed by the fraudulent pretense that it wasn’t a terrorist operation but merely a response to a cranky video from a freelance American critic of Islam. She deplores the official harassment of various media critics of the Obama regime. But Peggy Noonan is truly and sensibly appalled most particularly at the conduct of the IRS.

Ms. Noonan brushes aside the feeble sophistries that presidents have often used the IRS to harass opponents; the current revelations are of especially widespread misconduct, and officials of the IRS have lied to Congress and have exercised their right to silence in unusually suspicious ways. What occurred in 2012, she correctly remarked, was that a Democratic president used the Democratic political clerisy to reelect himself in a corrupt abuse of the system, followed by a glazed pall and indifferent shrug of ignorance and prevarication. The president claimed to know nothing.

Noonan is more concerned by the politicization of government employees than she would have been 20 or more years ago because “all parts of American life have become more political, more partisan, more divided, and more aggressive. . . . When a scandal is systemic, ideological, and focused on political ends, it will not just magically end. What does it mean when literally half the country understands that [the IRS] is politically corrupt, sees them as targets, and will shoot at them if they try to raise their heads?” Bingo. I can’t agree, though, with her proposal for an independent counsel, because that is another matrix for terrible abuse, and the last thing the system needs is another demented partisan like Archibald Cox (Watergate) or a Torquemadan lunatic like Lawrence Walsh (Iran-Contra) lurching and plunging through government like a Frankenstein monster. Unleashing the prosecution service, professional or special, on the IRS will just create earth-shaking Jurassic combat among the psychopathic mastodons of government and escalate collateral damage among the people. Hopeless though the Congress has been in almost every respect since, at the latest, the Clinton years, it should hold the hearings and begin the process of doing what it was created to do, and its members are sworn and paid to do: act as a coequal branch, bring injustices to light, and generate attempted solutions to problems the administration and the judiciary are not addressing.

The IRS scandal is only one of these problems. For decades, immense numbers of illegal immigrants were permitted to enter the country to do menial work while scores of millions of low-end industrial jobs were outsourced, and the issue was just ducked by the executive and legislative branches until it became too hot a potato to be susceptible to serious resolution. The elected officials of government just ducked the abortion issue as well, until, by default, it fell into the incapable lap of the courts. This is an inconvenient issue, of course, because of the sharp division of opinion on when the unborn attain to the rights of people, but the country’s political institutions are charged with the responsibility to govern, which is not exclusively a matter of simple questions that achieve unanimous concurrence.