Why I Despair
The central problem is that America, knowing Obama, gave him a second term.

Victorious, November 7, 2012



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. His, says Marco Rubio, “are tired and old big-government ideas. Ideas that people come to America to get away from. Ideas that threaten to make America more like the rest of the world, instead of helping the world become more like America.” I will vouch for the verity of these words. I have watched how these sorry ideas play out in the real world, and it is not pretty: They make people’s lives worse, and yet simultaneously convince them that any reform will kill them — a fatal combination. Americans should avoid this path sedulously, for that way lies decline.

Rubio is correct in another assessment. How small Barack Obama’s politics are! How deficient and outmoded are his ideas; how limited his understanding of America’s value; how dull his magniloquence. The president has an ample library of ideas from which to choose, and yet he raids the Old World. Compare Barack Obama’s entire oeuvre to a single line from Thomas Jefferson or Emma Lazarus or Frederick Douglass — or even Ronald Reagan. Does it stand up? 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. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to elect such a man once may be regarded as a misfortune, but to elect him twice looks like carelessness. (Or, rather, criminal negligence.) 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. The central problem, then, is not that Obama will be president for the next few years, but that the American people — knowing him — chose to reelect him. Even if this is put down to a failure of Romney’s turnout operation or Hurricane Sandy or Obama’s brilliant targeting, it does not say much for their commitment to classical liberalism that a significant group of Americans stayed away from the fight because they didn’t like Mitt Romney. That this was not a clear-cut repudiation of the president should sound the alarm.

Many had hoped that Tuesday would be 1980 revisited. It was not. Instead, in its effects at least, it was more like 1945 in Britain, in which year the Labour party was elected and began to put into place the foundations of a government-owned and -run health-care system that would quickly displace the established church as Britain’s national religion. (If you question the believers’ zeal, take a look at the frenzied NHS worship at the Olympic opening ceremony.) As Mark Steyn has correctly observed, in Britain as elsewhere, the National Health Service paved the way for a “permanent left-of-center political culture” that obtains regardless of who wins office. Obamacare will now go into effect, and Americans will soon feel entitled to its fruits. Those who doubt that this will have a deleterious effect on American republicanism have clearly never been bribed with their own health care. Almost certainly, Obamacare will fail. And then, as always, it will be replaced by something even further left. For the model, see Obama’s record on student loans.

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.”

How true these words are. Mrs. Thatcher, fittingly lionized by those on the right, certainly achieved a lot. But she could do nothing about Britain’s creaking welfare system or its antediluvian National Health Service. Nobody can. Nobody would even try. (Consider what an Augean task it is even to get people seriously to discuss Medicare’s disquieting trajectory.) Mrs. Thatcher’s party is well named: They are, quite literally, the “Conservatives,” and their role now is simply to run the government better than the socialists. Britain once had an Empire that stretched across one quarter of the globe; it provided the world with a common language, many of its institutions, global trade, and cricket; we did Great Things at home and abroad. Now, we wrangle over whether state spending should be 39 or 40 percent of GDP, and we hold the prime minister personally responsible for hospital conditions hundreds of miles from London. It’s debilitating.