Wednesday, February 15, 2012

America's Verdict on Obama

When Jonah Goldberg wrote Liberal Fascism back in 2008, liberals blew it off; they weren't interested in engaging its arguments. It wasn't surprising. Liberal Fascism said what conservatives have been saying about liberals for ages. It said that there was a fascistic streak in liberals that goes back to William James and the "moral equivalent of war."

Liberals want to mobilize the nation for great tasks, but not for war. They want to mobilize us into a civilian army to fight the good fight for education, for helping the poor, for health care.  Specifically, they want us to follow their lead and pay for their plans for the welfare state. And anyone that doesn't follow is a rotten egg, expressed more elegantly these days as a racist, sexist, or homophobe.

There is a point to the "moral equivalent of war." From time to time, we the American people need to mobilize to respond to some great national emergency that is not war related: Think Hurricane Katrina. But health care, education, welfare, superannuation, the great liberal programs that are bankrupting the nation, are not national emergencies. They are the normal challenges of life that people come together and solve, generation by generation, in social cooperation. These tasks do not require extraordinary mobilization--as if for war--and they do not get solved well under conditions of compulsion. They are the normal complex interactions of the great panorama of the challenges of life, so they are unlikely to respond well to the one-size-fits-all strategy of war, moral or otherwise.

You could say, a century and a half ago in the middle of the chaotic transition from agricultural society to industrial society, that the emergency required decisive action. But not today. That is why liberals use the language of justice more often than war to justify their extraordinary powers. They say that people are poor because other people are rich, because of greedy bankers and corporate greed--or exploitation or inadequate education or anything that comes to mind.

The big problem, and it gets bigger all the time, is that every time our liberal friends capture an area of social cooperation and place it under the yoke of compulsion they wither the natural instincts and virtues of the American people for unforced, willing and voluntary social cooperation.

In the 19th century, foreign critics noted the extraordinary talent for cooperation in the American people. Whenever Americans saw a need, remarked Tocqueville, they formed an association to tackle it. But the modern, liberal approach is that whenever liberals see a need, they agitate for a government program to solve it. The difference between the old method and the new method is the difference between black and white. But it is a mistake to critique the liberal approach to society with the normal shibboleths of "justice," "corruption," and "abuse of power." The problem is bigger than that. The result of the liberal project, its culture of compulsion and regimentation, of enlisting the whole nation, as if it were an army, in its moral projects, is a vast human tragedy that is tearing our society out by the roots and that withers the tendrils of social nutrition and individual moral growth.

Now of course, we have Charles Murray's latest, Coming Apart, which puts numbers and percentages on the indictment served up by Jonah Goldberg. When we talk about "coming apart" we mean precisely the loss of social capital, the goodwill and willing cooperation, that is the unintended consequence of each new liberal program and each new ratchet of the culture of compulsion.

This year, 2012, Americans are getting a momentous opportunity to vote "yea" or "nay" on the liberal project. Right now, of course, everyone is talking about the weakness of the Republican candidates on the one hand, or the utter cynicism of the Obama FY13 budget on the other. People want the president to be defeated for the right reasons, and they despair of the prospects for a decisive rejection of the president and all his works.

Politics is seldom as clear-cut as that. Just as Al Capone was not convicted of racketeering but income tax evasion, the great liberal project of social regimentation will not be defeated purely on its merits but most likely upon subsidiary issues. Maybe it will be defeated just because people don't like liberals and especially don't like Obama.

But those of us that believe in American exceptionalism have faith that the American people will deliver their verdict on Obama, and it will not be Four More Years.

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