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Sifting Through the Wreckage
Yes, Virginia, things changed.

Obama supporters cheer election results outside the White House, November 7, 2012.

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George Weigel

The most inane insta-pundit commentary had it that the 2012 election “hadn’t really changed anything,” what with President Obama still in the White House, the House still in Republican hands, and the Senate still controlled by Democrats. The truth of the matter, of course, is that a great deal changed, somewhere around 11 p.m. EST on Tuesday, November 7, when Ohio was declared for the president and the race was effectively over. To wit:

Obamacare, the governmental takeover of one-sixth of the U.S. economy, is now set in legislative concrete, and the progressive campaign to turn ever-larger numbers of citizens into wards of the state has been given a tremendous boost — with electoral consequences as far as the eye can see.

A war in the Middle East is now almost certain, and sooner rather than later; as if the previous three and a half years of fecklessness were not enough, the cast of mind manifest in the administration’s abdication of responsibility in Benghazi will have likely convinced a critical mass of the Israeli leadership that they have no choice but to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities in self-defense. The economic chaos resulting from military conflict in the Persian Gulf (and beyond) will further deepen the European fiscal crisis while making an already weak American economic recovery even more anemic.

The children and grandchildren of November 6’s voters have been condemned to bear the burden of what is certainly an unpayable mountain of debt, and may be an unserviceable amount of debt, which in either case will be an enormous drag on the economy, even as it mortgages America’s strategic options in Asia to the holders of U.S. government bonds in Beijing.

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The American culture war has been markedly intensified, as those who booed God, celebrated an unfettered abortion license, canonized Sandra Fluke, and sacramentalized sodomy at the Democratic National Convention will have been emboldened to advance the cause of lifestyle libertinism through coercive state power, thus deepening the danger of what a noted Bavarian theologian calls the “dictatorship of relativism.”

Religious freedom and civil society are now in greater jeopardy than ever, as what was already the most secularist and statist administration in history will, unfettered by reelection concerns, accelerate its efforts to bring free voluntary associations to heel as de facto extensions of the state.

Nothing changed? In a pig’s eye.

Europeans understood this, immediately, even if large swaths of the American punditocracy didn’t. One e-mail from Poland, the morning after the election, expressed real fear for the future (as well my correspondent might, given President Obama’s craven whisperings to Dimitry Medvedev that a reelected administration would pull the final plug on missile defense in Europe, as Vladimir Putin has long sought). Another, from London, suggested that Obama’s reelection was a cataclysm for America similar to Henry VIII’s break with Rome: a politico-cultural-economic game-changer the effects of which would be felt for centuries. A Scottish friend (correctly) foresaw serious trouble for the Catholic Church in the United States, to which he had long looked for models of leadership in handling aggressive secularism.

None of this was surprising, however. Five weeks before Election Day, I had lunch with the head of state of one of America’s closest European allies. When I asked him how our politics looked to him from a distance of some 3,500 miles, he replied, more in sorrow than in anger, “America is missing greatness.” Americans dubious of what they style “foreign entanglements,” who would otherwise shrug off such an observation, might think twice about it in light of a second Obama administration. For my luncheon host was not simply referring to a lack of American leadership abroad; he was, in a single, poignant phrase, speaking of a national will to diminishment that seemed to him evident in both the astonishing possibility that a failed president would be reelected and the equally surprising inability of that president’s opponents to make a compelling case for change.

And here, too, is something for Republican strategists to ponder while sifting through the wreckage. Mitt Romney made himself a better candidate throughout 2012, and for one brief, electric moment at the first debate, he seemed like a leader with vision, passion, and wit. But a recovery of American greatness — cultural, political, economic, diplomatic, and military greatness — was not the driving theme of the Romney campaign. Not knowing Mitt Romney personally, I can’t say whether this obviously decent and successful man simply lacked the understanding necessary to make the case for true American renewal, as distinct from the faux hope-and-change mantra that had seduced so many in 2008. But whatever Romney’s personal inclinations, many Republican campaign managers and consultants always seemed afraid of scaring the horses. Obama would be beaten, they insisted, on grounds of competence, not by a campaign that called the country to recognize that it need not settle for mediocrity, a campaign that summoned America to new heights of achievement.

The themes for such a campaign were not difficult to imagine; they could have been built around a recasting of FDR’s four freedoms. Freedom of religion: No government bureaucrat in Washington is going to tell your religious community how to conduct its affairs. Freedom from fear: A Romney administration will not tolerate the burning of American embassies and the torture and murder of our diplomats by the thugs of al-Qaeda and their jihadist allies. Freedom for excellence and accomplishment: Unshackling American ingenuity from the restraints of government interference will unleash new wealth-creating and wealth-distributing energies, even as that liberation empowers the poor to lead lives of self-responsibility through honest and dignified work. And freedom from unpayable debt: Your children and grandchildren must not be buried beneath a sludge pile of extravagance sluicing out of a national capital (and an administration) addicted to throwing oceans of money at problems.



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