A commenter on Larry Auster’s website put it best:
I couldn’t help thinking that this string of improbable election results—Christie in New Jersey, the Virginia clean sweep, Brown—in addition to the widespread Tea Party protests, have been powerful confirmation of what you said more than a year ago, and what I was thinking when I refused to vote for John McCain. Obama has galvanized and revived American conservatives in a way that no liberal Republican president ever could. I think it’s pretty well beyond serious dispute that if John McCain were president, we’d already have amnesty and none of those federal and local seats would have gone to a Republican. Moreover, people have coalesced around fierce opposition to a President whose leftist agenda and sheer, brazen contempt for the American people has awakened real panic and outrage.
I wrote too, around May 2008, that Obama would radicalize conservatives. So far so good. But it’s not a costless thing; we are in a painful recession, and the “solution” of deficit-stimulus spending guarantees another bigger dip some time down the road, as whatever bubble is being inflated deflates unexpectedly. Let’s just hope we’re not eating Soylent Green and taking our money in wheel barrows to the farmer’s market before it’s all over. But hopefully we’ll come to our senses on the economy, fiscal profligacy, immigration, national security, and much else before this joker is through. But even that means a national decision to slowly, steadily climb out of this terrible hole and get our books in order.
Hopefully too “change” will become a bad word and we can, once again, remember John Randolph’s admonition that “change is not reform.”
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Bill Clinton was a polarizing figure, in spite of his popularity. For both friends and enemies, he was the true torch-bearer of the 60s and the Baby Boomers: idealistic, flabby, occasionally elitist, urban, self-indulgent, draft-dodging, and all the rest. His lifestyle fed into stereotypes held by Reagan Democrats and blue collar Americans about liberal elites, and his gun control measures and perceived hostility to religious people–not least in the Waco Massacre–did much to fuel an anti-government paranoia among conservatives during that time. In its more mainstream manifestation, this included measures like the Contract With America and the attempted alliance of paleoconservatives and certain libertarians in venues like Chronicles magazine and the John Randolph Club. The most extreme variant included the militia movement and the Timothy McVeigh bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building. Much of this feeling dissipated after 9/11 and the 2000 election. Many conservatives channeled their feelings of alienation and fear at Islamic terrorists. Bush’s perceived moral clarity was welcome, and a new kind of bellicose populism became prominent in the movement, even if the democracy-spreading stuff was dismissed as necessary window dressing. This turned out not to be so.
Bush, who was frequently called “more conservative than his father” behind closed doors in Republican circles in 2000, turned out to be quite a bit more idealistic and more liberal than his father. His foreign policy was less steeped in realism. His embrace of Hispanics, including illegal immigrants, as the future of the Republican Party did much to alienate social conservatives and Reagan Democrats, who became more concerned about mass immigration in recent years.
I believe Obama has the capacity to have the Clinton effect, uniting conservatives who have now lost the distraction of a non-conservative president leading us into hopeless backwaters like “spreading democracy in the Middle East” or expanding home ownership to bad credit risks. After all, without the albatross of the first President Bush after 1992, conservatives united around a truly conservative set of themes and did much to scuttle Clinton’s dumbest ideas. As with Clinton, Obama’s big spending, dubious heritage, increasingly hackneyed rhetoric, and recent anti-gun noises will likely trigger the anti-government, anti-spending feeling that conservatives always seem to find again as soon as they’re out of power. I may be wrong; the demographics have changed considerably since 1994. Many millions of newcomers have arrived since then. And younger people are less likely to marry and have children–these milestones being major inducements to conservatism among not particularly political folks. We’re still here though. Obama has been fearless about confronting conservative on various hot button issues–criticizing the US in Turkey, mocking Christian beliefs in his stem cell decisions, kowtowing to Mexico on guns–and the intense backlash is brewing, along with that old time conservative anti-government rhetoric. While this message fell on deaf ears during the inflationary boom, there is always a group that views big government spending as profligate and short-sighted during hard economic times. Such views connect directly with those of our Founding Fathers and have even penetrated the once pro-New Deal Reagan Democrats as they have climbed the economic ladder. When combined with the more culturally-based opposition to amnesty, which Obama seems surprisingly poised to advocate, Obama may accomplish what Bush could not: uniting conservatives around a small government, neo-nationalist set of views.
The political disaster would be for some opportunist without a thorough understanding and ability to articulate these views to become the face of conservatism. This is why McCain, Huckabee, and Palin each present different risks to the party. None is a real conservative steeped in the nationalist and small government strains of thinking that have grown so robust under Bush’s pseuedo-conservatism, and each would become a lightning rod for conservatives, while in fact being a populist or militarist imposter.
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Lawrence Auster has a good piece on Obama that discusses the pros and cons of his election, which the chief positive being that he would focus conservatives and purify our beliefs, something I argued in May. I still believe this would happen, and it would happen in a particularly healthy way: his overreach, enabled by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, could revive our respect for limited government and the traditional criticisms of the welfare state, remind us of our latent wariness of foreign adventures, and hopefully degrade the health of political correctness and taboos on race and immigration. The latter is particularly important, and would depend upon his policies revealing themselves (as they have been his entire career) to be narrowly tribal and tinged with the rhetoric of class warfare rather than unifying in any normal sense of the term. Arguably, this radicalization was the effect of the Carter Administration, which functioned as a capstone of the craziness of the 1970s. Only after that long and dark decade could Reagan explicitly attack the pro-government, pro-welfare, anti-defense, and anti-American foundations of much of contemporary liberalism. In other words, the times created Reagan as much as he responded to the times; only really tough times made worse by Obama’s policies could revive a healthy conservative political voice in American life. Continuing with the faux conservatism of Bush or McCain, which is in fact populist militarism, would discredit conservatism on many fronts: this approach does not work, it is not responsible, it causes too many conservatives to compromise on their core principles, and such policies, by rejecting free markets and replacing them with managed corporate welfare, does not command the respect of the vast majority of natural conservatives among small businessmen, folks that take pride in self-sufficiency, and the “leave us alone” coalition in general.
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I think this is a useful observation by Mark Thornton over at the Mises blog:
On top of all that, people suffer psychological consequences as well. The people most involved in the bubble are confident, jubilant, and self-assured by their apparently successful decision making. When the bubble bursts they lose confidence, go into despair and lose confidence in their decision making. In fact, they lose confidence in the “system,” which means they lose confidence in capitalism and become susceptible to new political “reforms” that offer structure and security in exchange for some of their autonomy and freedoms.
In this manner, great nations of people have given away their liberties in exchange for security. The Russians submitted to Communism and the Germans submitted to National Socialism because of economic chaos. In 20th century America, economic crises–and fear more generally–provided the justification for the adoption of “reforms” such as a central bank (i.e. the Federal Reserve), the New Deal, the Cold War, and even fiat money during the economic crisis of the early 1970s. Fear of terrorism after 9/11 resulted in a massive transfer of power to government at the expense of individual liberty. Submission of liberty and individual autonomy in exchange for security and the “greater good” is now often referred to as choosing the dark side.
The reason economic crises create fear and submission of liberty is that people do not generally know what caused the bust or economic crisis and generally do not even know that there was even a bubble in the first place. In fact, as the bubble is bursting many people will deny that there is a problem and believe that the whole situation will quickly return to what they consider normal. The average citizen thinks very little about what makes the economy work, but simply accepts the system for what it is, and tries to make the most of it.
People want practical goods from government and from the economy: predictable laws, a job, safety, order, and prosperity. The government’s failure to provide those things (or the conditions for them) as a consequence of its own mistakes–subsidizing housing and lending with loose money for over a decade–does not lead most people to demand that government steps back. Instead, its apparent power is intoxicating. Our intimate familiarity with this power and an ignorance of the ways it leads economies astray leads for calls for new, radical expansions of government.
Politicians (including the politicians at the Fed and the Treasury) willingly oblige, and the voices of restraint are labeled as special interests, reactionaries, or worse. People are becoming desperate, particularly as we have become less self-reliant and more dependent on cheap credit than in the past. Combined with ignorance of the business cycle and a misplaced trust in government, we’ve seen the Federal Reserve and treasury step into uncharted waters like unsecured short-term commercial credit, ownership stakes in banks, and huge bailouts of the least necessary players in the investment world, i.e., Bear Stearns.
Isn’t it comforting to know that in this fertile soil we will soon make a choice between a pompous socialist with a cult of personality on one side of the ballot and a guy with little respect for the private sector who yearns to unify the people through soul-purifying historical change on the other?
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Barack Obama, like so many demagogues with a surrounding cult of personality, is now taking things surprisingly far, particularly as he has not yet won this election. He has enlisted law enforcement in Missouri to create a Barack Obama truth squad who will prosecute anyone who “lies” about Obama. The civil law of defamation and slander is apparently not enough for him, nor is it enough apparently for the Missouri law enforcement folks to at least give themselves a neutral label.
Obama is already in a bit of hot water for having his associates inundate news and radio outlets that host critics of Obama on the air, as if news is obligated not to criticize him.
This guy’s arrogance nearly cost him the primary. Middle of the road, working class, and elderly voters seem less impressed than young people and educated white liberals by his smooth talking schtick, seeing instead a guy with few accomplishments and a very exaggerrated sense of entitlement. (By way of example, in his debates with McCain, he said “As President” several times, rather than “if I’m given the privilege to be President . . .”)
This is actually scary stuff. Liberals have spent the last four years making both reasonable and unreasonable criticisms of the expansion of presidential power through items such as the Patriot Act and the Total Information Awareness project. Coupled with McCain-Feingold, Presidential power can easily be abused to alter an election. It’s something Bush has not done, to his credit. But can the Chicago machine politician wrapped up in the labeling of an ethical reformer promise the same? It’s hard to imagine this cynical guy who attached himself to some of the most unsavory people around–Tony Rezko, Jeremiath Wright, Bill Ayers–in a city famous for its corruption would not abuse presidential power in the form of various degrees of censorship for the narrow purpose of helping himself and his associates.
Political speech is at the core of First Amendment protections. It has long been safe from “prior restraint” and surrounded with broad protections, particularly in debatable questions of opinion and mixed questions of opinion and fact. It appears some overzelaous law enforcement perssonnel are going to shield Obama from the most anodyne criticisms under the rubric of combatting lies. Historically, the good sense of the American people, the news media, and the campaigns themselves performed this function.
What now will happen when people say Obama has associated with terrorists (he has) or visited Pakistan as a young man (he did) or went to a church that spewed anti-American hatred for twenty years (he did that too). Will these facts be labeled lies? Will the zealousness of his enthralled supporters undermine one of the most important American rights in the name of combatting hate and rumors? Obama’s rhetoric is the language of censorship nearly everywhere: it’s always cited as necessary to stop corruption and agitation. It’s the language of Huge Chavez and Valdimir Lenin alike.
Bush’s exercises of power are subject to a great deal of skepticism and media criticism, as well as resistance from his own party. This is overall a good thing. Who, however, will resist Obama when his favorite charge–racism–will be levied so promiscuously at those frail creatures of the media and the cultural elite, and elite which is easily stopped in its tracks by the very suggestion?
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Obama’s main schtick on the Housing Crisis is that it’s an outgrowth of an under-regulated culture of greed, where too many irresponsible people make too much money in barely regulated markets that endanger investors and, indirectly, ordinary Americans with economic turmoil. His solution: tax the rich. Hey, at least it has a certain narrative integrity. It ignores the cheap money problem, the problem with social policies at HUD and the mortgage secondary market, the problem of fraud, wage pressures from immigration, the desirability or not of risk-sharing instruments like securitized mortgages, and the problems with credit now and going forward , but at least it’s coherent. McCain has ebbed and flowed between an overly personalized account focused on individual malefactors and a not-very-convincing return to free market principles that demand these guys suck it up and go under in bankruptcy if need be.
It’s sad to think our economic future hinges on these two highly political visions of what is wrong and how to fix it. Michael Goodwin says it well:
Both flunked the sudden stress test the crisis imposed. Neither looked ready to be President.
They were bailed out, too. The rescue package took them off the hook of actually having to come up with solutions or even responsible ideas.
Yogi Berra‘s line that you can learn a lot by watching certainly proved to be true. Watching Wall Street panic and the leaders of Congress turn into fraidy-cats who only wanted to go home was bad enough.
Seeing the next President, whomever we elect, pretend to be bold and certain when neither had a clue was terrifying.
Grace under pressure was missing-in-action. Neither Obama nor McCain rose to the challenge history presented to them. Because the crisis hadn’t been poll-tested or posted safely on the TelePrompTer, they didn’t know what to say except that everything was bad and excuse me while I open a can of outrage.
The one thing they dare not say was the truth: that ordinary Americans are also guilty of overindulging in the credit binge. That might cost them votes.
McCain suggested a commission. Obama promised a meeting. And they blamed each other. Thanks for nothing.
Each made a lame claim that I-told-you-so, as though they had actually seen it coming. Hogwash. They had no clue before and no solution after. Nor did their armies of advisers and experts.
It was 9/11 all over again in that nobody connected the dots until the damage was done. George Bush was no better. Until he deigned to appear Thursday for a two-minute speech – no questions allowed – I assumed he was hiding with Vice President Cheney in an undisclosed bunker.
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I have to say, it didn’t inspire confidence. She has the George W style of “gut” decision-making that disdains process, self-doubt, and inquiry, and I think this is coupled with a long tradition of how she tackled relatively straightforward business-style problems as governor and the evangelical tradition of anti-intellectualism.
Further, she was as I suspected likely an empty vessel on many issues before a week long series of cram sessions with the likes of Joe Lieberman, Biegun, Mccain, and other uber-hawks. They have filled her head with neocon talking points on Russia and Israel and Iraq. She didn’t even know Georgia attacked first and presented no coherent reason why Ukraine and Georgia should be set up as NATO tripwires. Unfortunately, there’s no daylight between her and McCain. I’m sure he considers foreign policy his strong suit, and she’ll naturally defer. (Of course, it wouldn’t be the worst thing if a limited government-oriented VP became his tsarina of economic policy.) She did say something frightful right out of the AIPAC play book: that we could not and should not question Israel’s decisions in it’s own security. I don’t see why we can’t reign them in or at least protest in appropriate circumstances. For example, if they attacked Iran by overflying Saudi or Iraqi airspace, that would be a major problem since our failure to shoot down those planes would amount to dragging us into supporting a perhaps unnecessary or unwise attack on Iranian facilities.
I did think Gibson was a bit unfair on his quotes from her earlier speeches and in his use of the ambiguous phrase “Bush Doctrine.” I thought the doctrine meant nothing about preventative war, but rather the idea that terrorist-supporting-states will be treated no differently than terrorists.
That all said, politically I’m not sure it will matter. She appeared competent, and that will be the take-away of 70% of people who even bothered to follow it. Further, her hawkishness is in line with the American exceptionalist view popular among at least a plurality of Republicans, including evangelicals. Finally, there will soon be a mini-controversy on the unfairness of the “exact words” and “Bush Doctrine” questions.
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