So that’s it: John Andrew Boehner out as House speaker, and the way cleared (whoopee! Hallelujah! Pass the Dom Perignon) for a conservative revival on Capitol Hill?
I don’t believe I would bet my last plugged nickel on it, oh, my brothers and sisters.
It turns out generally that life is more complicated than we suppose when admiring or deploring a particular political career. Back when we needed passing grades in history to graduate from high school, we absorbed some lessons as to the rise and fall of human hopes. We tended to note, if we weren’t looking out the window, that individuals rarely start things by themselves, rarely turn things around by themselves. There’s always a whole lot more going on than meets the eye, or runs through the Twitter rumor mill.
We thought Obama-ism, so to call it, would evaporate at the touch of a Tough and Savvy Leader. We may still think so. But a more reasonable appreciation, it seems to me, is that Obama-ism isn’t just about one Barack Hussein Obama, the man who fellow Americans endorsed over candidates who would not have increased regulation, who would not have abandoned wars without going to the trouble of winning them, and so forth.
Obama-ism — a kind of neural disorder in the body politic — is more about paying back the authors of long-gone Western male heterosexual dominance than it’s about addressing actual problems, e.g., the coming collapse of government entitlement programs.
Obama-ism and its ideological offshoots — climate change-ism, retreat-from-power-ism, and of course Bernie-ism, as practiced by people old enough to know better — rule perhaps half the American roost. Its powerful engines are resentment of others and studied indifference to the idea that a culture of liberty actually promotes prosperity and increases well-being.
The counter-culture of government control, as exemplified by the president and his advisers, can withstand buffets and shin-kicks, such as funding cut-offs for Planned Parenthood (a noxious enterprise with no legitimate claim to government monies). In the end, what the counter-culture can’t withstand is the power of ideas.
Those of us who have hung around American conservatism for a while understand — or at least think we do — that before legislative actions change, ideas have to change. Belief legendarily precedes action. A conservative, such as Boehner, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, or maybe even Mr. Trump (though he’s going to have to convince me), ideally acts out of knowledge or expectation. He believes this action or that one will advance or detract from the idea of a society responsible in the deepest sense to its past and its future, no less than to its present. Bad ideas have to go, displaced by good ones: ones that are workable, conducive to liberty-within-order.
Ah, how we realized all that in ye olden tyme, when Bill Buckley, Barry Goldwater, and Ronald Reagan were on the prowl! Today’s exasperated conservatives appear to yearn for that time. If Obama makes their flesh crawl with his arrogance, his love of executive power, and his disdain for solutions crafted outside Washington, D.C., many Capitol conservatives similarly give them the hives on account of their supposed pragmatism and timidity.
The remaking of a society is a vastly complex task. So you do your best under the circumstances, knowing how many will dispute your judgments about the costs, obstacles, and concessions necessary to gain concessions from others. I do not say it is wrong to wish John Boehner had a more revolutionary flair. I say he did his best under the adverse circumstances of the time, such as the widespread support for a regime such as Obama’s — those Americans excited rather than repelled by the idea of government power, those not particularly proud of the American past, those not given to the use of words like freedom. Or God.
The basic problem was never with Boehner. It was — and still is — with us.
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