It’s the end of summer. I plan to stop sharing my “wisdom” with the world for a few months. Too much else to do. But I wrote this recently, and it shall be my summer’s Parthian shot. My breakdown of where we stand:
Economic: we appear to have reached the point where the Keynesian “hair of the dog” no longer cures the old economic hangover from the latest bubble. Yet we are pouring in that “remedy,” despite its evident failure. There is no strong indication Romney would be much different on the Keynesian front, though he might give big business some more breaks. Even if he wins and does so, it seems the world, and the U.S. in particular, is in for decades of hangover. The debt is mountainous, the money has been largely wasted, somehow the piper will be paid. We are in a heap of trouble—a heap about $50 trillion high. (Read Reagan’s old budget director David Stockman: http://lewrockwell.com/stockman/stockman12.1.html). Worst of all, the whacky ideas that got us here, the general economic apostasy of most of the intellectual class (Left and Right), show no sign of losing ground in the general population, leading to the likelihood that every false remedy will be tried until it nearly kills us, rather than good old-fashioned honest money, paying for what you need, and trying to save some.
Civil liberties: Putting an existing trend on steroids, the Bush administration got a lot of us used to the surrender of our rights, even and especially ones noted in the Bill of Rights. The growth of the TSA shows that these rights are unlikely to be respected in the near future in America. Neither party wants to reverse these trends. Torture, indefinite detention of suspects, unsupervised killing by the executive branch, all unthinkable on all sides a short generation ago, seem here to stay. When I grew up it was proverbial to say of some proposed action, “why not? It’s a free country!” That makes no sense now. On the civil rights front, we went from forcing racists to use their property in a non-racist way, the way the majority saw it, to forcing religious groups to use their property in the way the majority thinks is right. I am fervently against racism, but also against the legal coercion we fought it with, and the entrenched belief in coercion where we now stand. (To be clear: the government and the law should have been made color-blind, but it should have continued to allow individuals, as well as businesses and clubs, to discriminate racially if they so chose—not because racial discrimination is morally acceptable, but because freedom is incredibly important, and crushing freedom for the sake of moral goodness is not wise. Cultural pressure should have been applied to such businesses and clubs—as it was in the 1950s in baseball and other fields, for example. I understand some think this would have failed, but I believe it would have worked, without the massive coercion. Using government coercion instead put a new and mighty stick in the hand of government—that stick is still there, ready for use against any minority.)
Religious liberty: Catholics and evangelicals appear about to be pushed out of every part of the culture but the narrowly religious by the health insurance rules alone. (Rare potential bright spot: a Romney victory might avert this, perhaps temporarily, perhaps for good.) This is a real disaster, a big step toward second-class citizenship. The bill was upheld on the absurd ground that it is a tax, with the deciding vote cast by a “conservative.” With friends like these, who needs enemies? (One paradox of modern “liberals”: they talk “tolerance” until blue in the face, but many have little interest in tolerating those who disagree with them, as the responses to the HHS mandate show pretty clearly.)
The culture wars: homosexual marriage and abortion seem ever more firmly entrenched as self-evident natural rights in the minds of Americans. True, abortion is distasteful to huge percentages of Americans, but that does not seem to translate into majority votes to overturn it. An entire generation of votes for Republican presidents on these grounds has done nothing to change this: Casey was decided 8 to 1 in favor of upholding Roe, with 8 justices appointed by Republicans. Millions of Americans do not want to think about (a) what is a human being, (b) why are all innocent human lives sacred, and (c) what is logic. Meanwhile, marriage is more and more seen as a purely human response to sexual and romantic yearnings of human beings, with only a vague and accidental connection to children—and if so, why put any limitations on it? Why deny it to any group? The reasoning is good, it’s the premises that are not—but we aren’t changing the thinking of our secular brothers and sisters on that one (and we barely practice the right premises ourselves). We keep thinking that if we elect a Republican president we can somehow hold the culture war line, but the hard-core culture warriors don’t win nominations. When Republican presidents do get elected, they all seem to prefer, once in office, to let others lead on this issue. Winning an election doesn’t change the culture.
Religion: Protestants are as divided as ever, and the theologically faithful are seduced by the Republican Party. Catholics remain saddled with some of the most hideous, saccharine religious music in human history, obviously written by composers who grew up on Disney tunes and almost nothing else.
Constitutional interpretation: there is still precious little interest among the major parties, in a consistent understanding of the original meaning of the Constitution. In the Democratic Party, there is no interest at all. Millions of Republicans seem to think they are interested, but most care about such a tiny handful of issues that it is impossible to give them credit, even in apparently major movements like the Tea Party, for actually caring about the fundamental principle. It’s almost all opportunism: where an original reading coincides with their political desires, they are big originalists; where it does not, zero interest. Ron Paul was the only bright light here.
Foreign policy: the whole establishment is convinced that our policy of endlessly thumping foreigners, without declaring war, without realistically defining success, is the key to success. ("You just have to keep plugging away.") There are minor disagreements as to which foreigners to thump, and how hard. The idea that we might be on the wrong side in some cases, or destabilizing countries that need stability desperately, or imposing our will and desires on countries with starkly different cultures from ours, is rarely even entertained. The idea that we have actually created the enmity cannot be considered, as raising the idea without horror and disdain is considered proof of a complete lack of patriotism. (This is logically untenable, but there you are.) (One of the paradoxes of modern conservatism is that deeds and habits that for most people are obviously, wildly unacceptable at the personal level—unprovoked violence, pre-emptive removal of people who dislike you, bullying, unappointed policing of the neighborhood, “leadership” as dominance—are celebrated at the national level. People who believe in loving their neighbors believe the number of civilians killed by our forces, or in the anarchy unleashed by our meddling, is just not our fault—and they won’t listen to anything that tells them otherwise.)
Joy: God is in charge. What we have to do is clear: practice love and virtue. (If God were not in charge, I would see no room for joy.)
Optimism: On all these fronts, there are significant counter-currents. Knowledge of and interest in a different approach grows. An economic default or hyperinflation (not what I want, of course) might actually discredit Keynesianism, and even lead to a return to some clear thinking about economics, where value is seen in things that satisfy needs, not in numbers juggled by government. (It would be incredibly painful, though.) There is growing interest in the Constitution and civil liberties: Ron Paul is greatly to be thanked for much of that. The war doubters are not terribly energized, but our numbers might be growing. The armchair warriors seem a bit less enthusiastic. The Catholic Church has a wonderful new translation of its new Mass, much less bland and washed out, and some exciting new leaders. And, fundamentally, we usually muddle through, and things are rarely quite as bad as they seem—although when the Mongols invaded, or when the Communists or the Nazis came to power, they demonstrated that many times things are every bit as bad as they seem—or far worse.