Politics & Policy

Hope for the GOP

The Obama administration is a sinking ship.

Faithful readers may be nonplussed to learn that I am now verging on political optimism. An event as close in clarifying effect to a Damascene bolt of lightning as is able to penetrate the regimental philistinism of my current surroundings alit on me last week, as silently as a bat. It happened unhoped, and, as miracles do, as (political) despair beckoned, as I read the latest installment of the nasty turkey shoot of New York Times editors and columnists, in which they picked off the promenade of Republican presidential hopefuls like giggling snipers.


By my slightly sporadic reading, the Times has not been so excited by a sequence of related discomforts to newsworthy targets as it is in this nomination race since it was offering a city tour and a five-star restaurant dinner to anyone who could claim a novice for the Roman Catholic priesthood had put a wayward hand briefly on an unsuspecting thigh, even decades before in a faraway place, as happened to the spinster in The Night of the Iguana (as long as the Times could allege that the present Pope was alive and already in holy orders when the incipient outrage happened).


Whenever Mitt Romney looks like he has seen off the latest challenger, Seamus — the Romney family dog, and victim on his trip on the roof of the Romneys’ car from Boston to Quebec of the most demonized journey in American history since the Bataan death march — takes over Gail Collins’s lively column. Seamus was shouldered aside for a few weeks by Rick Perry, while his jogging with firearms and vasectomy from his father-in-law were pilloried; and for one week by Chris Christie, whose obesity and liberal views on some issues were basted in the Times’ warm solicitude for the sensibilities of the Tea Party. And then it was Herman Cain’s turn. Following levitations of hauteur about pizza and snufflings of incredulity about his alma mater, and sniggerings as if at a church bingo about 9-9-9, paydirt leapt from the rich earth: groping, lewdness, and “unspecific harassments.” That these charges were denied, were very stale-dated, and were legally inconsequential was all beside the point. (Not to be so lightly dismissed is the trail of the controversy to the door of the Obama campaign, especially David Axelrod.)


This caused both the hatchet ladies of the dark lagoon to come snorting out of the brackish water and the undergrowth. Gail Collins and Maureen Dowd, reaching for the catechism of the damned, dismissed Mr. Cain as a man of such unfathomable turpitude and depravity that he could not be trusted to deliver a pizza to Anita Hill. They declared their latest Republican victim politically dead without waiting for any canvass of his vital signs (which seem fairly vigorous).


There is already a clicking of bolts and a leveling of gun barrels at the upward flicker of Newt Gingrich’s polls. And always looming portentously at the end of the trail is Seamus, the heir to other great dogs, the incipient American itinerant victim (Mormon) dog, tail wagging in readiness. (I wish Gail Collins would tell us, in one of Seamus’s frequent cameo appearances in her column, whether he is still alive or has gone ahead to join Fala and Checkers.)


For me to achieve a degree of optimism from this procession of accident-prone Republican candidates might seem aberrant or a worrisome sign of cabin fever, but it isn’t. The grace of revelation came in two mighty flashes of celestial light, a few seconds apart, thunder to follow closer to next November. Whatever obloquy may be rained down on the well-tended topknots of the Republican hopefuls, it will not excuse or reelect the administration described by one commentator a few weeks ago as “the worst since before the invention of electricity.”


This administration will have produced $5 trillion of deficits, which will have the economic consequences of a 500 percent increase in the money supply in four years, without any serious effort to suggest how it is going to close the spigot, much less repay any of the accumulated debt. Only someone more familiar than I with the most fantastic realms of fiction could find adequately recondite metaphors for this level of fiscal irresponsibility. There has not been a hint of entitlement reform; no interest in a reforming budget or in changing the actuarial assumptions or vesting conditions of Social Security; no comprehensive analysis of municipal, county, or state debt, as Harrisburg, Pa., and Jefferson County, Ala. ($3 billion) went down in the last two weeks like tenpins; nor an effort to tackle the $1 trillion student-loan debt bomb. The administration continues its glazed pall of official prevarication in a reassuring monotone.


There has been no serious effort even to make the 10 percent token reduction in the projected decade of deficits required by the outcome of the debt-ceiling fiasco. The president clings to his arithmetic of the 99 percent and cozies up to the infantilists of Occupy Wall Street (even as he continues his dalliance with the stragglers among his limousine-borne Wall Street groupies). And Treasury Secretary Geithner, having been struck dumb like Zechariah in the temple for the last two years, recovered his voice to exhort the impecunious Europeans to join America in the St. Vitus’s Dance of spending confected trillions of virtual electronic dollars/euros.


Nothing has been done to reduce energy imports, to encourage increased use of natural gas, and generally to bring down the $800 billion current-account deficit; nor to contemplate real health-care reform. And in foreign affairs, nothing has apparently been done to reduce the likelihood or imminence of Iranian acquisition of a nuclear military capability, which, when achieved, will convert the president’s enthusiasm for arms control into mute spectatorship of a pandemic of nuclear proliferation.


At least Herbert Hoover acknowledged that a depression was in progress, and Jimmy Carter spoke of a malaise (of which his presence in the White House was the principal symptom). The president and other administration spokesmen seem supremely confident that all they have to do to retain immersion rights in the public trough for another four years is hammer the piñata about the 99 percent and incant the name of the preceding president.


As long as there is an alternative that can speak and tie up its shoelaces in the morning, I do not believe that this administration can be reelected. It is so unrelievedly incompetent that its fecklessness is more a matter of sadness and embarrassment than of the rage that engulfed George W. Bush. This, I surmise, is why the liberal establishment, the Times editorial writers and columnists, the Hollywood groupies, the rich fundraisers, don’t detect that the ship is sinking, and still squeal with delight as the Republican challengers fail to generate more than tentative or reluctant enthusiasm. But they are reading the wrong dials; there will be a Republican nominee. The country will not reelect this mockery of an administration, and whoever the Republican is will be elected and inaugurated, even if he has operated an open-air dog kennel on the wings of an airborne aircraft while groping relays of stewardesses.


And the other illuminated revelation, which came swiftly after the first: The voters will not only be disposing of a failed administration; they will be approving the Republican platform, which will call for radical tax simplification and reduction, entitlement reform, serious health-care reform, real spending reductions, incentives to increased domestic oil production and natural-gas use, and an absolute commitment to preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear military power.


It will be a drastic reform program that will signal that the United States is awakening like Brünnhilde, however unlikely the Siegfried, finally resuming world leadership, acting on its budget and current-account deficits, and behaving like a Great Power and a textbook case in self-government for the first time since President Bush Senior. The effect of the change will be electrifying. Although it is the challenging task of implementing a transformative program without an overpowering leader like Roosevelt or Reagan, and will be more of the nature of subtle direction of profound change, as by James K. Polk or Richard Nixon in his first term, the prattling of those announcing the imminent Chinese seizure of the headship of the world will be drowned out by the sound of the world leadership vacuum being filled, where American leadership resided from the 1940s to the 1990s. (The Times even ran a piece on November 2 celebrating the fact that the collapse of American influence in the world assured that it would be less harassed by favor-seekers.)


The new president may have an imperfect CV and too-perfect hair; Speaker Boehner may surpass Mr. Obama’s historic favorite, Iran’s Mohammed Mossadegh, in his proclivity to burst publicly into tears; the White House may be as boring and banal as it was under George W. Bush (though that is unlikely, especially in syntactical matters); but America will lead in policy terms, if not in the personality of its leader. Problems will be addressed and the mere anarchy of abdication compounded by smug official sophistry will no longer be loosed upon the world. Mr. Churchill’s bust may come back to the Oval Office, and FDR’s address at D-Day, including the godly references that the Bureau of Land Management feels disrupt the spirit “of the elegant memorial,” may yet be displayed there. The night will end and glorious will be the dawn, in Washington. I have seen the future, and in it, people work.

— Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of FreedomRichard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, and, just released, A Matter of Principle. He can be reached at cbletters@gmail.com.


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