A preliminary inquiry. Contributions by W. James Antle III, John Bolton, Midge Decter, Stefan Halper, Matt Latimer, Seth Lipsky, David Malpass, William McGurn, and Jeremy Rabkin.
W. JAMES ANTLE III
At a low point in our experiment with nation-building in Iraq, longtime conservative columnist George Will identified what was missing. “Iraq is just three people away from democratic success,” Will wrote. “Unfortunately, the three are George Washington, James Madison, and John Marshall.”
Needless to say, these three Founding Fathers cannot simply be transported to a new time and place. This is too bad, because America could once again use leaders of this caliber just as much as any fledgling democracy in the Middle East.
Consider: It took the federal government 200 years to produce its first $1 trillion budget. Washington now runs annual deficits twice as large, a scant 10 years after being in surplus. Social Security and Medicare are broke; Medicaid is having a similar effect on state budgets across the country. If left unreformed and unchecked, these entitlement programs will subsume the entire national GDP. Total federal unfunded liabilities stand at $88.6 trillion.
We have spent the better part of the last decade mired in two wars, conflicts longer in duration than World War II despite facing smaller and weaker enemies. Our Nobel Peace Prize-winning president has now entered us into a third. No less a hawk than David Frum concedes, “Three wars is a lot, even for the United States.” The Middle East, a cauldron of terror-fueling resentments, is in a state of political upheaval.
The economy is weak, with unemployment hovering around 10 percent. Our leaders’ solutions range from increasing the government spending that drives the looming debt crisis to expanding the money supply in an attempt to re-inflate the bubble. The latter is akin to downing a fifth of vodka in order to drown a hangover.
The culture is awash in the raw sewage of vulgarity and avarice. The family is shattered. The average American cannot articulate why marriage is not a unisex institution. One baby in three is born out of wedlock. Another million per year are snuffed out in the womb. We are bound by no common faith or culture. Mass immigration, much of it illegal, without accompanying assimilation may deprive us of a common language.
Our political leaders, many of them preening, squabbling, and petty, have proved inept at meeting these challenges. Once the Cold War seemed lost, yet we prevailed. Thus despair is premature. But it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the United States remains three people away from democratic success. The three are Washington, Madison, and Marshall.
W. James Antle III is associate editor of The American Spectator.
Fulminating about America in decline is fashionable today across the political spectrum. Contemporary political commentators are seemingly rewarded for drawing the broadest possible conclusions from an ever-narrower range of data. Whatever the reason for the commentators’ grandiose predictions of decline, their conclusions du jour, they are describing what can and should be understood simply as a unique civilization’s momentary indigestion.
The international left and its U.S. acolytes welcome decline as long-overdue payback for our past sins, while many American conservatives see it as the inevitable consequence of decades of bad policy decisions. Both are wrong. There is no decline that can’t be reversed by electing a real president in 2012 to unleash our country’s vibrant political and economic strengths.
I acknowledge that, as they say, “mistakes were made,” including under prior presidents, but the mistakes are not ultimately consequential if we can just get a grip on ourselves. Moreover, by comparing ourselves to the mistaken or exaggerated views of other nations’ current performance and prospects, we simply increase a perception of decline that doesn’t exist in fact.
Take the economy. Obviously, 2008 was a bad year, but the governmental policy mistakes that led to the recession (such as Fannie and Freddie) can be reversed, and so can the political mistakes that followed it (such as the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill). Pointing to the continuing strength of China’s economy and straight-lining it forever may suggest U.S. decline, but China’s economy will not grow at its present rate forever. Internal political and social strains are already taking their toll, and we will find out relatively soon just how real China’s economic statistics actually are, and how much is derived from imaginary government planning figures, a common problem of Communist regimes. And anyone who thinks Europe is prospering needs to respond honestly to the question of which country’s government bonds they are really prepared to buy.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?