Thursday, November 13, 2008

Election 2008- What it Does, and Doesn’t, Mean.

My first observation is that this election was not a landslide…not even close. Previous landslides…Johnson in 1964, Nixon in 1972, and Reagan in 1980 and 1984…saw the victors win some 60% plus of the popular vote. Reagan captured 49 states in 1984 against Mondale. In this election, the popular vote margin in favor of Obama was 53% to 47%. The Electoral vote count was strongly, but not overwhelming in Obama’s favor. To be sure, Obama’s win was impressively broad…but again, no landslide.

I do not believe that this election portends a conscious swing to the Left. It is an acceleration of the swing towards big government, yes. Since 2000, we have seen the resumption of the statist trend that began with the creation of the anti-trust laws over a century ago. That trend has been marked by an aggressive socialist Left and a timid, compromising Right. (By “Left” I mean pro-socialist, and by “Right” I mean pro-capitalist.) With each new expansion of government control and diminution of individual freedom, the remnants of capitalism get the blame for the problems caused by government, which then justifies the next set of controls. The current crisis offers a stark demonstration of that pattern, with our next president calling the government-created financial collapse of a government-regulated banking and housing industry a failure of free market capitalism. And, in typical pattern, the alleged representative of free markets…the Republican Party…is not only failing to rise to its defense, but is actively hastening the destruction of the remnants of economic freedom in America.

In other words, the resurgence of the big government trend is advancing in an intellectual vacuum. I believe that the basic American belief in individualism, though battered and receding, is still dominant…not yet having been overtaken by the entitlement mentality slowly engulfing the culture. But this individualist spirit desperately needs a voice. To be sure, it does have a voice…the Objectivist movement. But in a two-party political system, the philosophical foundation for Americanism and capitalism established by Ayn Rand must eventually be embraced by one of the major parties. This is the challenge facing the Republican Party, now disintegrated and intellectually leaderless. The chance for stopping a new, major lurch toward socialism in the short term is virtually nil. The Democrats will almost certainly use their firm control of Washington and the GOP disarray to push for rapid enactment of their programs this spring. So the focus must be turned to building the intellectual case for rolling back the growing fascist welfare state. And that begins with building the case for an alternative.

This election has been called the end of the Reagan era. This is blatantly false. The Reagan era ended with the election of George W. Bush. The “big government conservatism” of the Bush years…more accurately called right wing liberalism…is being used to discredit tax cuts and reduced government economic regulation, two hallmarks of Reaganism. The Bush tax cuts did mimic the Reagan cuts, albeit on a much smaller scale. But the parallels end there. Even the way in which Bush “sold” his tax cuts clashes with Reagan. Reagan portrayed his tax cuts…which brought the top income tax rate down from 70% to 28%…as a means of liberating the productive members of society. Bush saw his as a means of “growing the economy”, a collectivist premise.

Even more absurd, some on the Left have called this election the end of the era of Ayn Rand. Rand advocated reason, individual rights, laissez-faire capitalism, and a moral code of rational self-interest. Despite the mildly anti-statist Reagan interlude, the last half-century has seen the exact opposite of those principles…a major expansion of government and, simultaneously, a resurgence of religion in America. Neither trend would be possible in a Randian culture. Ideas are never defeated, until they have been confronted openly and refuted. While indisputably a growing intellectual force over the last 50 years, the “era of Ayn Rand”, if there is to be one, is clearly in the future. A declaration of the end of a philosophical movement whose essential characteristics have been evaded, distorted, and ignored by its critics says something else entirely. The true, benevolent nature of capitalism must not just be obscured, but must never be discovered. For this reason, the newly invigorated Left fears the Objectivist movement.

Much of Obama’s support is “soft”. Just listen to the reasons given by his supporters for their votes. They are rich in empty cliches, vague generalities, shallow euphemisms, and an arrogant ignorance. Obama centered his campaign around the intellectually shallow, even as he laid the philosophical foundation for a socialist agenda. Listen to the Hoover Institution’s Shelby Steele

His talent was to project an idealized vision of a post-racial America -- and then to have that vision define political decency. Thus, a failure to support Obama politically implied a failure of decency.

Obama's special charisma -- since his famous 2004 convention speech -- always came much more from the racial idealism he embodied than from his political ideas. In fact, this was his only true political originality. On the level of public policy, he was quite unremarkable. His economics were the redistributive axioms of old-fashioned Keynesianism; his social thought was recycled Great Society. But all this policy boilerplate was freshened up -- given an air of "change" -- by the dreamy post-racial and post-ideological kitsch he dressed it in.

This worked politically for Obama because it tapped into a deep longing in American life -- the longing on the part of whites to escape the stigma of racism. In running for the presidency -- and presenting himself to a majority white nation -- Obama knew intuitively that he was dealing with a stigmatized people. He knew whites were stigmatized as being prejudiced, and that they hated this situation and literally longed for ways to disprove the stigma.

Obama is what I have called a "bargainer" -- a black who says to whites, "I will never presume that you are racist if you will not hold my race against me." Whites become enthralled with bargainers out of gratitude for the presumption of innocence they offer. Bargainers relieve their anxiety about being white and, for this gift of trust, bargainers are often rewarded with a kind of halo.

But there is an inherent contradiction in all this. When whites -- especially today's younger generation -- proudly support Obama for his post-racialism, they unwittingly embrace race as their primary motivation. They think and act racially, not post-racially. The point is that a post-racial society is a bargainer's ploy: It seduces whites with a vision of their racial innocence precisely to coerce them into acting out of a racial motivation. A real post-racialist could not be bargained with and would not care about displaying or documenting his racial innocence. Such a person would evaluate Obama politically rather than culturally. (Emphasis added.)

There is nothing new or original or unique about Obama’s rhetoric or policy proposals. He represents the tired, worn-out, bankrupt ideology of collectivism…cloaked in the usual, sinister altruistic call for service to the state and sacrifice for one’s neighbor…a blatant appeal to envy, guilt, and the entitlement mentality. His is a rise propelled not by ideas, but by the upward pull of an ideological vacuum. Note that Obama and his forces ran for their political lives, as from a plague, from the “socialist” label. It is crucially important to understand the significance of this. Socialism…i.e., collectivism…is dead as a cultural and intellectual ideal. Thus, Obama is reduced to a mental shyster who must sneak across his socialist agenda while denying its essence, counting on not enough people seeing through the fog of “hope” and “change”. He won against an opposition that had nothing to offer, no fundamental alternative to inspire…which offered only “an echo, not a choice”. He won against an imploding GOP. With all of that, he still couldn’t convince 47% of the country.

The question now is, will a true, principled, pro-capitalist, pro-individualist opposition arise in time to thwart the statist tide to come. The signs are not good, if one looks to the GOP. More hopeful is the prospect of a popular backlash against the Democrats once their socialistic designs come into clearer focus. Here, there is some cause for cautious optimism. The widespread, spontaneous revulsion that erupted over the bailout tsunami is one positive sign. Also, polling indicates that the Dem’s congressional gains were driven mainly by disgust with the incumbents, rather than support for higher taxes and more regulations. When confronted explicitly with socialism, Americans still reject it.

There is no way to put a positive spin on this year’s election results…not if one values his freedom and his life. I am merely saying that the situation is bleak, not hopeless. The problem is, socialism in America is coming bit by bit, always disguised behind some “good cause". Blinded by pragmatism and altruism, most people can’t or won’t see through the disguise. That is why we have built an enormous welfare state, when no welfare state was ever explicitly chosen by Americans. This blindness is going to have to change…and quickly.

I believe America is ready for…indeed, desperately needs… a principled, ideological, morally confident intellectual leadership to arise in defense of capitalism, with all that that implies. It can not come too soon.

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