Rarely (if ever) in my adult life have I ever been so distressed and demoralized as I am today by the political situation and prospects both here and abroad. From many informal conversations, I gather I'm far from the only one who feels this way. And for once, even though I'm the prototypical "glass is more than half-full" optimist, I don't see any obvious solutions to the problems.
Right reason is on the retreat, the American conservative movement is splintered, the national Republican Party (especially its congressional wing) is virtually useless -- and the rest of the West seems on a quest (this is no jest) to do its best to invest the rest of its capital in a viper's nest of statist, defeatist policies that in no way pass the test of success. All of which, of course, leaves too many national economies (and their cultures) depressed.
And, as I just discovered when writing the paragraph above, using silly rhymes to lighten the mood doesn't help matters one bit.
So, what exactly is so depressing?
WELL, A PRESIDENT PUBLICLY identified as a "conservative" is in a long-term funk in the polls with less than a 40 percent approval rating. Even with unemployment at a phenomenally low 4.7 percent (for which he has received no public credit), which should result in greater tax revenues (it has) and less need for social "safety-net" spending (it hasn't), the annual deficit is projected to be in the $375 billion range. The national debt is growing as a share of the total economy, and energy prices are rising as a predictable response to a worthless Congress doing too many of the things it ought not do while leaving undone those things it ought to have done.
Health care costs keep growing out of control, as do (relatedly) entitlement costs -- but real entitlement reform is farther from reality than ever because President Bush and Congress passed a horrendous Medicare-expansion bill while spineless GOP congressmen vamoosed into rabbit holes rather than support the president on necessary Social Security reform. On immigration, the forces of the right are either hopelessly fractured or else just plain ignored, while protests in favor of sovereignty-destroying illegal immigration gain fawning media coverage but little public counter-action.
Congressional GOP ethics have been, frankly, in the toilet for years -- matching the lows so long exhibited by the congressional Democrats when they were in charge, and certainly matching what the Dems would do again if they again took over. Yet ethics and lobbying reforms go nowhere, and the barons of pork protect their turf with the fierceness of rabid rats. Big money and big corporate interests vie for supremacy with screeching liberal pressure groups (also backed by big money), while common sense and principle get thrown out the window.
Quick: Name the last time Congress passed (and the president signed) an important law that did more good than harm? Okay, maybe not so quick: Take your time.... Now take even more time thinking. It doesn't matter. You can think all you want and you may not come up with anything substantial. But the bad bills have been legion. Godawful Medicare bill. A decidedly mixed bag of an energy bill. Bad farm bill. Horrible transportation bill. Extravagantly expensive Appropriations bills. An idiotic bill creating a counterproductive reshuffling of agencies into the bureaucratic mess of a Homeland Security Department. And so on.
Deadly incompetence in response to Hurricane Katrina, both short-term and long, while my wonderful home city of New Orleans lies in ruins. Sheer political cowardice in the battle over judges, so that a Republican Congress is on pace to approve fewer appellate nominees of a Republican president in the first two years of his second term than a Republican Congress approved for Democratic President Bill Clinton in the first two years of his second term, even as Clinton was being weakened by the then-politically-devastating first months of the Lewinsky investigation.
ABROAD, EVEN WHERE REAGANITE expansions of freedom have occurred, President Bush gets no credit. World trouble spots have benefited from democratic revolutions named after numerous colors and flowers -- rose, purple, tulip, orange, probably even a pink-polka-dotted marigold revolution somewhere or other -- at the same time that India and Pakistan both draw closer to us and as Muammar Qaddafi publicly gives up his nuclear weapons program; yet nobody here seems to celebrate those gains while other Western nations merely bitch and moan in their various states of unprincipled senescence.
France is roiled by corruption, racially tinged riots, and protests by whiny students and young "workers" that make obnoxious President Jacques Chirac back down from the economic reforms that are just about the only good thing he has tried in years. Italy's elections resulted in a basically unworkable standoff that has hobbled (and probably deposed) the strong American ally, Silvio Berlusconi. Germany's government also is so split between coalitions of the left and right that it is all but paralyzed. All three nations are mired in stagnation and unemployment exacerbated by huge, sclerotic, and unwieldy national bureaucracies and other ills of rampant nanny-statism. And Spain already turned turtle after one bout of terrorism.
Even in the stalwart United Kingdom, American friend Tony Blair will step down at some point to be replaced by far more leftish leaders of his Labour Party, while the Tories leave Thatcherite principles farther and farther behind in a cynical pursuit of an "us-too" strategy that adopts more and more of the statist and culturally leftist tropes of the Labourites.
Castro still reigns in Cuba, and has announced plans to drill for oil 45 miles off the American coast. The hard-left troublemaker Chavez still makes trouble from Venezuela. Iran gets closer and closer to being nuclearly weaponized. North Korea, also probably nuclear armed, lurks in the East. And Russia becomes ever more autocratic (and dangerous) under the iron hand of the man into whose soul President Bush supposedly saw, a soul Mr. Bush pronounced good and "trustworthy."
Yet with so much of the rest of the world increasingly proving itself venal and dangerous, a majority of the United States Supreme Court here at home picks and chooses from among foreign laws and foreign court decisions to impose supposedly "evolving standards of decency" on Americans while claiming to protect some sort of tommyrot connected to the "sweet mystery of life," or words very much to that effect. Yet private property rights, the very basis of the social compact, are stripped by the same high court in the name of state-sponsored "economic development" that enriches already wealthy business interests...
OKAY, ENOUGH ALREADY. As odd as it may sound, there is one possible development that could do so much to upend all these bad trends, and to regain the moral and political high ground for the good guys, so that the entire, downwardly spiraling spirit of the age escapes its doomed track and starts ascending to new heights of freedom and prosperity. (Please forgive all the cliches. They happen to say the right things in this case.)
Win in Iraq, demonstrably and definitively, and the United States will be vindicated, as will, in domestic politics, the administration that fumbled and stumbled but never lost its will or its admirable aims. And victory over the terrorists in Iraq, a victory for republican government every bit as lasting as the ones post-World War II in West Germany and Japan, is indeed still possible. A government is on the verge of being stabilized there. The terrorists are ever more desperate, and by some reports running out of weapons materiel. The good guys -- the Americans and our allies -- can win this thing. And silence the critics. And strike a mighty blow for freedom.
In this Easter week, all our eggs are in that rickety basket. All the more reason for us to redouble our efforts to make sure the basket doesn't fail.
Right now there's no specially good reason for optimism anywhere in the public sphere. But steadfastness and courage -- and sheer, cussed insistence on seeing a principled commitment through to the end -- can survive even where optimism falters. Churchill once offered blood, toil, tears and sweat. Grimly, we conservatives can do no less.