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.
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Acting with effect also means confronting a challenge posed today by the rise of authoritarian regimes — Russia, China, and in the world beyond the West — unseen since the Cold War. At stake is the continuing preeminence of democratic government, which sets the standard for today’s global civic culture. Can it work? Yes. We must demonstrate, by example, that we can once again put our house in order, curb our debt and our military appetite — the alternative is to follow Rome, Persia, and Great Britain.
Stefan Halper is senior fellow at Cambridge University’s Centre of International Studies and author of The Beijing Consensus.
I have little patience for the America-is-doomed crowd. Hardly novel is the assertion; we’ve heard it since the republic’s founding (a writer in 1775: “America has seen its best days”) and in every decade since, often from our envious enemies (Nikita Khrushchev: “We will bury you”), and on occasion by our own dreary leaders (Jimmy Carter: “The only trend is downward”).
Invariably statistics are citied to buttress the case; America ranks umpteenth in this, or at the bottom in that. But statistics are fun to play with, and those of us not reaching for our suicide capsules have our own. (America is the strongest military force in the world, our workforce remains comparably productive, our people prosperous; our population, in contrast to many other Western democracies, is growing.) There are less tangible measures, too — people around the world look to America for help in disasters, millions apply every year to become U.S. citizens, our culture remains the touchstone for populations the world over. What free people, after all, ever say that they want their own countries to be just like Cuba? Or Sudan?
That said, there are number of things that a prudent populace must watch for if we hope to maintain our leadership role in a world with a rising China, a wealthy, expansionist Russia, a drifting Europe, and the ever present terrorist threat. We need to understand what has made America a resilient and powerful nation. We must maintain a strong, robust, and flexible military force that deploys its considerable power with patience and prudence. We must launch fiscal reforms so that our nation is not awash in debt. We must insist that younger generations are taught the core values of our Constitution — among them the proper balance between the freedom of the individual and the needs of the state. Why should young people in other countries know more about how our system works than our own children do? We need to recognize the value of different cultures and traditions without our society while also working to make them part of our own.
Of course the America-is-failing routine will be very much in vogue over the next year, as Republicans seek a cudgel against President Obama. But Democrats offered the same charge against George W. Bush, to little avail. Our Founders spoiled us, creating a system of government that can survive even the most inept of administrations. As a Republican leader once said of America, “We have even lost, but we have lasted, and we have always come through.” That is as true today it ever was.
Matt Latimer is a bestselling author and former deputy director of speechwriting for George W. Bush.
The optimist in me resists the idea that America is in decline. My own view is that we are being poorly led in pursuit of change without vision. So we are in a terrible pickle. But there’s no reason why this has to turn into an endless decline. The great lesson of the Reagan era is not only that America’s decline could be turned around but that it could be turned around quickly and peacefully. What one needs is the right leader to bring in the right policies. In Reagan we found such a leader, one with an astonishing grasp of the possibilities and the savvy to move with assurance on every front.
He brought in supply-side fiscal measures while Chairman Volcker used the tools of the Fed in the battle against inflation. In the strategic realm, Reagan dispensed with the idea of containment and introduced the idea of rollback. He eschewed the strategy of mutually assured destruction and brought in, with Star Wars, the idea of strategic defense. He embraced, in his pro-growth agenda, both the pro-life movement and immigration. He declared for democracy in his first overseas speech, and he went up against the Soviets arm-in-arm with Big Labor and Solidarity, the Scoop Jackson Democrats, the struggle for Soviet Jewry, and Pope John Paul II. He did it all while tippling with Tip O’Neill.
What a political lesson to inspirit a new generation. Its task will be to tease out the enduring principles. I like the idea being articulated this season of Constitutional Conservatism. It presents a broadly welcoming formula and, in the Constitution, a place to get ourselves grounded and a law around which to structure our policies. It places a premium on understanding the way the Founders limited the federal government by dividing and enumerating its powers and by reserving the rest to the states or to the people. It reminds us that the Constitution provides no rights — it prohibits the government from abridging rights that were already given to all of us by our creator. All in all, it’s a stronger formula than that being followed by any of our enemies.
Seth Lipsky is founding editor of the New York Sun.
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.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?