The point is we are back to unimpressive candidates waging campaigns that duck the main issues. Obama is cranking up to inflict a class war on the country, with the assistance of the egregious huckster Warren Buffett, Omaha’s most overworked aphorist and noisiest municipal export since the B-29. The prospect is too much even for William Daley, outgoing White House chief of staff and scion of a family that has brought political chicanery and skullduggery in Chicago to the verge of immaculate corruption.
Of course there have been other candidate droughts in the past. Most contestants for national office between Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt were estimable Civil War generals who were unambitious, prudent presidents who let America be America. Immigrants poured into the United States, commerce boomed, and what was already the world’s largest national economy put up staggering rates of GDP and productivity growth (i.e., a rate of about 8.5 percent economic growth in the 1880s). Innovative and imaginative presidents need not have applied, and didn’t.
Despite the recent attempts to glamorize Calvin Coolidge (largely by the same people who have propagated the fraud that FDR exacerbated the Depression), the Twenties can be seen as a time of inadequate leadership, though Herbert Hoover and his 1928 opponent, four-term New York governor Alfred E. Smith, were outstanding men in very different ways.
Having defeated Woodrow Wilson’s attempt to bring America into the world and make it safe for democracy, and, through Prohibition, having handed one of America’s largest industries (alcoholic beverages) to the underworld, the Republicans allowed the growth of such a gigantic speculative bubble, especially in equity values, that when the bust came, a system that did not guarantee bank deposits and had no direct relief for the unemployed could not withstand it.
And in foreign affairs, the great vision of international organizations and collective security having been dismissively rejected, much was made of mindless naval disarmament (that greatly advantaged our subsequent enemies) and the harebrained Kellogg-Briand Pact that purported to outlaw war. Then as now, the reward for such vapid posturing was the Nobel Peace Prize, and Frank Kellogg’s was as dubiously earned as have been those given to Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, and Barack Obama. In foreign as in domestic matters, the price of poor and evasively procrastinating government proved to be desperately steep when the reckoning came.
So will it be again. It looks like Barack Obama and Mitt Romney: an incumbent who has the country hemorrhaging debt that has all the characteristics of massive money-supply increases versus an opponent whose plan to improve the economy is 59 clichés. Romney ran four years ago as someone who famously repeated, “I love data.” The data are simple and they are grim.
America, though still the world’s greatest country, is in decline and retreat. Some of that may be prudent retrenchment, but it is overcommitted to the fraud of the service-industry economy that adds no value, and so conventional economic recovery won’t be enough. America has shot the spending bolt for inducing traditional economic recovery. And the administration is shrinking defense spending, the best form of economic stimulus, instead of reforming entitlements. It is chasing votes with a tawdry fable of redistribution. And the presumptive challenger came late and half-heartedly to tax simplification and is dancing around entitlement reform like a flame-seeking moth, without alighting on it.
Public education is in shambles; medical care is a feast for two-thirds and a famine for the rest. American lawyers are a steroid-bloated cartel and criminal justice is presided over by a judiciary that has been preening itself while the Bill of Rights has been shredded by the prosecutocracy. The financial industry is in a pale of disgrace as profound and richly deserved as the contempt almost uniformly attached to the political class. Everyone believes in the Constitution, but it isn’t working very well and none of the candidates is seriously addressing these points.
Mitt Romney would be among the most improbable saviors any important country ever sent for. But he may now be all that stands in the way of an accelerating descent into nether regions. Certainly, the United States will revive and go on to great things. But while awaiting the gladsome day of that relaunch, it may be advisable to defy the national media’s ostentatious atheism and recognize the truth of the last czar’s last prime minister that “it is time to pray.” Voting seems not to be working.
— Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom, Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, and, just released, A Matter of Principle. He can be reached at [email protected].