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Waiting for the Gods

What we will see in the next four years is the monarchical government of a president determined to rule without Congress.

By From the December 2012 - January 2013 issue

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WELL, THAT WAS A BUMMER. Still, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better.The good news is it’s going to get a lot worse.

The bill for Obama’s first term has yet to come due. The administration poured $5 trillion down a rat hole for trendy projects run by political allies without providing any discernible lift to the economy. Instead, it’s increased our debt load and placed us in the unpleasant company of Portugal and Greece.

Remember when Obama said that he thought the United States was exceptional in the same way Greece is exceptional? Turns out he meant it.

The administration added more people to the food stamp rolls than it added to the job rolls, and that’s not about to change. The food stamps have cushioned the absence of jobs, but at some point this won’t seem like an adequate substitute for the recent college graduate, back in his old bedroom at his parents’ house.

We haven’t been asked to pay the bill for Obamacare yet. Oh, we’ve heard of firms that didn’t get started because they didn’t want to deal with it, but that’s nothing compared to what’s around the corner, as companies and employees react to the new measure. We also haven’t seen the rationing of medical care from the IPAB panel that has been given the task of cutting costs, and which bids to make of Sarah Palin a prescient seer.

In short, Obama’s economic policies have been a huge disappointment in his first term and can be expected to be a disaster in his second term. His response is to stay the course, to go on spending, to expand the public sector, to toss more money to his allies on the grift (oops—to well-deserving recipients of social justice). His problem, however, is that this is not sustainable. Margaret Thatcher understood this. She said that the trouble with socialism is that eventually one runs out of other people’s money to spend.

What conservatives must do, then, is wait. Obama’s time will be the years the locusts have eaten. It has been and will be a time of frivolous pursuits and shameless pandering, nastiness and demagoguery, with a president who would make of Sandra Fluke’s bedroom habits a matter of national concern, and who encourages “revenge” against “enemies.” The fall will come and conservatives must be ready for it. We have been told that we can spend like there is no tomorrow, that we can pay for this by taxing the rich, that if we do so they won’t stop working, that we can pay people who don’t work without sapping their incentive to work. Would it were so. Alas, reality is nastier than that, said Kipling. The Gods of the Copybook Headings, who told us we must work, that nothing comes for free—messages we laughed off—are not so easily tricked.

This isn’t the time for conservatives to abandon the free-market principles that made America the richest country in history. We’ve had the right formula for economic growth, and the correctness of our prescription hasn’t changed. We’ve not done this on the backs of the poor. Instead, we’ve shown that real social justice requires economic prosperity to pay for it. When account is taken of future generations, of the children yet unborn who will inherit the debt load Obama is imposing on them to pay off union allies, suspect environmental firms, and other donors, the moral superiority of our message is even more clear.

Like Sir Andrew Barton, then, we will say:
I am hurt but I am not slain.
I’ll lay me down and bleed awhile,
Then I’ll rise and fight again.

In the short run, our watchword must be “No surrender.” I would have supported a “Grand Bargain” had Romney won and our side taken the Senate, one which traded a modest increase in taxes in return for major cuts against current spending, say on the ratio of one to six. No more. The lesson from the 1980s is that every extra dollar from increased tax revenues disappears down a sinkhole of increased wasteful spending, if Democrats have anything to say about spending. One can’t trust them, and any deal with them makes patsies of us.

Republicans cannot credibly threaten to shut down the government and look foolish when they try to do so. That apart, they should do nothing to take responsibility for the looming shipwreck of fiscal irresponsibility. Democrats broke it. Let them own it.

What we will see in the next four years is the monarchical government of a president determined to rule without Congress. He will not be able to pass any measures through the House, assuming our representatives will not become his useful idiots. He will therefore continue to rule by executive decree, as he has since 2011, passing laws by ukase, ignoring laws by dictat. He will do so without serious opposition from his supporters, the mainstream media and the courts. He will continue to transform the Constitution in ways which seemed unthinkable not so very long ago. But he will not create wealth. He will leave the country far poorer than it was when he came to office. His weakness is our opportunity, if we keep faith with our principles. His supporters, who are a majority of voters and our countrymen, will accept Crown government, restrictions on religious practices, the demonization of opponents, payoffs to cronies. What they won’t accept is poverty, however, the poverty that is promised by his policies.

A WAITING STRATEGY might not seem particularly exciting. It might not appeal to those who think, against all evidence, that “this is a center-right country.” But this is the hand we have been dealt. Our part is to sit back and watch the mess that the president and his party will make of things, of allies abandoned and wealth squandered. And be ready, when the time comes, to pick up the pieces. We will not take pleasure in our country’s decline, but along the way we might permit ourselves to ask our friends on the left, “How do you like them apples?”

In the meantime, there is something for conservatives to do—apart from supporting their families and being productive, good citizens. The conditions which supported Obama’s victory were the abandonment of schools and colleges to the left. In the humanities, universities offer students an expensive but empty credential, devoid for the most part of anything of educational worth. Its graduates are fitted for life on the picket line of an Occupy America protest. They aren’t trained for employment, which in Obama’s America is not a problem, since there are no jobs for them anyway. But at some point they’ll figure out that they’ve been conned, and we conservatives must offer them a plausible alternative. Then too, there are a significant number of free-market conservatives in the academy. They keep their heads low and quietly pursue their careers, but have true grit and are often the smartest people in their departments. They are scorned by their colleagues and generally ignored by conservatives outside the academy. That should change.

Above all, let’s believe in our free-market ideas. Let’s not apologize for them or muzzle spokemen like Paul Ryan. It’s been pointed out that, had Romney received the same number of votes that McCain did, he would have won. Do you know what made the difference? We didn’t have Sarah Palin this time.

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About the Author

F.H. Buckley is Foundation Professor at the George Mason University School of Law and author of The Once and Future King: The Rise of Crown Government in America.