The question is simple but profound: Will the 2012 presidential-election campaign be about big ideas? Ideas like whether the American people are still masters of their own destiny or instead have resigned themselves to a rule of lawyers advertising itself as “the rule of law”?
To push these fundamentals to the fore is the rationale of Newt Gingrich’s candidacy. If ever there were a big-ideas guy, it’s the former House speaker. Ideas seem to churn out of him faster than the Treasury churns out greenbacks for “green energy.” But do we want to think about them? Newt believes we do — perhaps not so much that we want to but that we have to think about them, if we are to remain an America that is worth preserving. He is also a historian uniquely sensitive to a unique historical moment.
The Obama years have pushed the accelerator on what had been a long, inching slide into the progressive abyss. For three-quarters of a century, statism was a Fabian project. It was reminiscent of what Jefferson, explaining his fear of the federal judiciary’s gradual imperialism, described as “working like gravity by night and day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its noiseless step like a thief, over the field of jurisdiction, until all shall be usurped from the States, and the government of all consolidated into one.”
Bucking this trend, President Obama has leapt way ahead to the endgame: a blizzard of unaccountable czars, nationalized sectors, suffocating regulations, and redistributed trillions. The result is economic stasis, massive unemployment, crony socialism, and the hovering prospect of punishing taxes, crippled productivity, mounting social unrest, and a loss of liberty so dramatic one actually notices that it is happening. Americans have now seen the future, and, in growing numbers, they are horrified by it.
In addition, after three years of watching congressional Democrats slavishly toe the line — watching spectacles such as majority leader Harry Reid’s decision to blow up time-honored Senate parliamentary rules just to avoid taking a vote that would embarrass the president — Americans are also grasping that what makes Obama and his Occupy Wall Street base “radical” is mainly their impatience. They want — right now — the end of history that the progressive establishment has heretofore been content to crawl toward, inch by cautious inch.
One of the few virtues of Obama’s pedal-to-the-metal approach is that it forced Democrats to choose sides. They’ve chosen him over a public that repeatedly shows it does not want what he’s redistributing. In the 2010 elections, that choice proved catastrophic for Democrats, but the rout hasn’t mattered. They’re still with him, because they accept his premises even if they’re not crazy about his pace. That illustrates that the trajectory we’ve been on since the 1930s leads inexorably to where the Obama Left wants to go. There is a reason why Bill Buckley yelled, “Stop!” — not “Slow down!” — as he stood athwart history.
So here is the dilemma: We have a moment in time in which it is possible to demonstrate, starkly, that statism does not work, and therefore that it ought to be removed root and branch. That argues not only for dumping Obama but also for rolling back the tide of which Obama is merely the most destructive wave. On the other hand, Obama is uniquely destructive. Therefore, the GOP Beltway Bible instructs, our priority is to come up with a safe candidate — one who is smooth enough to fade into the woodwork and make the election solely about the president. This is no time to scare people, the pros tell us. Let’s not get independents fretting about some conservative counterrevolution.