Is This Still the America We Thought We Knew?

September 19, 2013

The fascinating issue of America’s character arose in a “Ricochet Podcast” featuring the sagacious Norman Podhoretz.

Hosts Peter Robinson, Rob Long and James Lileks interviewed Podhoretz on a range of issues, but primarily American foreign policy.

Long lamented that President Obama has been making a consummate mess of America’s foreign policy, most recently in Syria, yet polls don’t seem to reflect that Americans are as atuned to Obama’s incompetence as one might expect — and hope. Nor do Americans seem to be bothered by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denunciation of the United States in an op-ed for The New York Times.

Long asked Podhoretz: “Has this ever happened before?”

Podhoretz responded that something along these lines has happened before in America. During the Cold War, there were many on the left who had no appetite for keeping the defense budget in sync with the Soviet buildup and no appetite for confrontation with the Soviet Union, which they believed was here to stay and so must be accommodated.

But, cautioned Podhoretz, “it’s much worse now … than it was then.” He continued: “My deepest fear … is that there’s been a radical transformation in the American people, not just under Obama but building. … I was absolutely certain that somebody as far left as Obama could never be elected and certainly not re-elected, because the America I thought I knew would not tolerate this, and of course, I was magnificently wrong, and … I haven’t made up my mind whether this was a temporary glitch … or whether it signified some real change in the American character. I think Obama was even to the left of (George) McGovern, and McGovern … won … one state (and the District of Columbia) in 1972 against an unpopular president. And that was the America I thought still existed, and if it does, it’s a sleeping giant, and one can only pray that it will awaken in time to make a difference.”

That is the question. Has there been some real change in the American character or at least some change in Americans leading to their rejection of or mortal apathy toward the American idea?

Isn’t that what Mitt Romney was getting at with his comment about the so-called 47 percent? Wasn’t he expressing his fear that when as many Americans are receiving more from the government than they are contributing to it, we may have passed the point where we can preserve America as a uniquely productive free market dynamo committed to the goal of maintaining equal opportunity and equal protection under the law?

What with the steady coarsening of our culture, the generations-long America-bashing, liberal indoctrination occurring at all levels of American education, the steady march toward socialism (including the formerly unthinkable current path to socialized medicine), the nationally suicidal but preventable level of entitlements, the accelerated expansion of the welfare state and the accompanying demonization of wealth, the wealthy and producers, the increasing racial and economic strife and the election and re-election of the extraordinarily leftist Barack Obama, we would be irrational not to be concerned about America’s future.

But is the demise of great “empires” organically inevitable? Do the forces of success ultimately corrupt them internally and prevent their survival?

Personally, I don’t believe that the American character has yet fundamentally changed or that our demise is inevitable. We have a choice, but we are, admittedly, approaching the tipping point beyond which we may be powerless to prevent our implosion.

Though too many able-bodied people are receiving government benefits, I believe that most people haven’t given up on themselves and would prefer to be working. Though the administration is sending the signal that they are all victims, many are far from accepting it.

In response to Podhoretz’s question, I do believe the situation with President Obama is unique — or can be.

As my brother has opined with his Limbaugh theorem, Obama has been able to position himself as an outsider fighting the very failed policies he has implemented and thus to avoid personal and electoral accountability for them.

Interestingly, Obama’s policies are decidedly unpopular with today’s American people — not merely those of decades ago. Though they re-elected him and continue to give him far more support than he deserves, it was his policies they rejected in the 2010 elections, when the GOP “shellacked” Democrats in the congressional races. Republicans also retained control of the House in 2012, despite Obama’s re-election. And all indications are that Democrats are going to be thrashed again in 2014 — precisely because of Obama’s policies.

Notwithstanding many troubling signs in our culture, we are seeing evidence that the public rejects what Obama has been selling but just refuses to reject him.

So I believe there is reason for much hope, assuming the GOP can overcome its disunity, return to its core principles and navigate through the pitfalls of dealing with Obama’s demagoguery on budget issues and the like between now and 2014 and then on to 2016 — and providing we can avoid going all the way over the financial cliff with Obama’s obscene spending and his virtual war on domestic energy, capitalism, producers and the entire economy.

Republicans need not panic or change their own character based on the erroneous assumption that Americans reject America’s founding principles and conservative principles. They just need to inspire the nation’s enthusiasm again by articulating their ideas as if they actually believe in them and as if they reject the liberal conclusion that we are destined for decline and permanent malaise.