It is universally recognized that one of the subliminal factors that will play a significant role in the Presidential election will be the great cultural divide that provided the primary separation between the “red” and “blue” states of the election of 2000. I say subliminal, because neither candidate to date appears to have assigned high visibility to the importance of the issues that feed into this divide—the usual suspects, of course, being abortion, homosexual marriage, the role of religion in public life, bioethics, etc. But the most critical aspect of these issues, aside from the substance of each, which is important, is the means by which American society resolves them. Quite simply, I believe that the future of the republic rests on the answer to the question of whether or not the legislative and executive branches will cease to abdicate their responsibilities and rescue the democratic process from the willful disregard of the Constitution by the judiciary.Many of the Supreme Court decisions of the 1950’s and 1960’s, such as those on civil rights, were considered fairly radical at the time, but were basically restorations of rights. After all, Martin Luther King’s revolution was about living up to our principles, not inventing new ones. But the courts have long since gone past the protection and restoration of rights and have extended their power down to the minutiae of public policy, even to the point of referring to judicial precedents from other countries in Supreme Court decisions! This has enormous implications for self-governance, and should be a major factor in this election, however radioactive the underlying issues may be. In fact, George Bush should make it one—it would be a big winner for him. As Michael Novak has noted, “It is a constant struggle to maintain free societies in any of their three parts, economic, political, or cultural. Of these three, the cultural struggle, long neglected, is the one on whose outcome the fate of free societies in the 21st century will depend. We will have to learn, once again, how to think about morals, and how to argue about them publicly….”. No better time than in an election year.
Two books recently released by authors occupying different positions on the political spectrum struck me as intertwined in their message. Michael Barone’s Hard America, Soft America describes the contrast, over several generations of Americans beginning with the Progressive era, as well as among different segments of contemporary society, and I generalize, of a “hard” America of competition, struggle, risk, and deferred gratification, and a “soft” America of entitlement, aversion to risk, absence of accountability, security, and equality, and he sees evidence now of a return to a primacy of the “hard” version, the countercurrents of which have been building for about twenty years, mostly as a result of the experiences learned through “softness”. Tim Russert’s book, Big Russ and Me, is a personal memoir of his life, growing up in Buffalo, New York, his maturity, and his relationship with his father, the most striking aspects of which, to me, were the lessons he learned from this man of very little education, low economic status as a garbage truck driver, and obviously of “hard” America attributes. In discussing his book, Russert is quick to point out the challenge he faces in conveying to his own son the values he learned from his father in an environment so saturated by his own success in public life and the ubiquity of “soft” (my word, as described by Barone) America. In my own way, I have often thought of what this problem must have been like for my father (and whether or not he was successful!), and I wonder what lies in store for the next generation of Americans, for, as Barone instructs us, “`soft` America lives off the productivity, creativity, and competence of `hard` America, which protects the country and pays its bills; we have the luxury of keeping parts of our society soft only if we keep enough of it hard.”
The 50th anniversary of the landmark decision in Brown vs. Board of Education was passing almost uneventfully with typical historical references and lamentations from the usual suspects of how much more remains to be done to achieve racial harmony. Then, in a speech at Constitution Hall in Washington, out of the blue and to the dismay of the racial victimization crowd comes Bill Cosby with a headline message aimed at the parents of black children, particularly the poorer ones—you are failing your children, you are not “holding up your end of the deal”. And further, he said, many young men in prison are not “political prisoners”, but are guilty of real crimes, not police profiling or brutality, and “where are the fathers?” Predictably, the NAACP and other vested interests in the race industry were appalled and rushed immediately to criticize the messenger, without any visible response to the message. In fact, Cosby deserves an ovation for his leadership and honesty. Now if we can just get him to take a leadership role in advancing the cause of school choice, those parents who heed his admonition to take more responsibility will have an alternative to the monopoly school system that has made very little progress in closing the racial achievement gap in the 50 years since Brown. The average black or Hispanic student today leaves school with an eighth-grade education. Integration was supposed to be the panacea for equality, but “busing” to achieve racial integration, a direct result of the Brown decision, was among the major social engineering frauds and helped to discredit measures like school choice that would have had much more impact, both on integration and, much more importantly, equality of student achievement.
The questions for the day are: Can a society steeped in postmodernism in its elite cultural institutions and that has only recently survived its first postmodern Presidency summon the moral courage for the commitment necessary to win the war on terrorism? Can we fight such a war in a 24/7 media market? Can an open society ever fight and win a total war that is considered just? Strangely enough, much of the answers to these questions depend on the “loyal” opposition, which has completely lost the grounding to be coherent and responsible and, in the process, is doing a great disservice to our mission.
In the hour of our greatest crisis since the beginning of World War II, the American left, primarily embodied in the Democratic Party, has no higher calling than to illegitimize the war effort and discredit those who are leading it. There once was a responsible left in this country, but the old leaders of that political wing would not recognize their descendants.Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, and Humphrey are spinning in their graves listening to Dean, Kerry, Gore, and the younger Kennedy, and where are the Scoop Jacksons of the current Democrats? Joseph Lieberman is the only one who remotely resembles him, and he was dismissed early in the Presidential primary as a result.
Not one of the present leaders on the left could credibly utter the words of JFK—“let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty”. And not one can credibly define the parameters of the purposeful use of American power in the world or the purposes for or conditions under which young Americans are to be sent in harm’s way. None of them, especially their presumptive Presidential nominee, can utter anything but the platitudes of internationalizing the conflict and seeking approval and assistance from the UN, not as a means to an end, but as an end in itself. Forget about the failure to find WMDs, prison abuses, and the hawkish neo-conservative “cabal” they whine about. Those are red herrings. The real hang-up for this crowd is that they are mired in their formative Vietnam experience, wherein any projection of American power, particularly in the national interest, is considered morally flawed.
They just don’t get it. We cannot opt out of this war or delegate it to others. The leadership of the left, John Kerry in particular, needs to understand this, not as an election issue or as legitimate disagreement over tactics, but in terms of our mission as a fundamental American interest. It’s about Western civilization and America’s leadership of it. As Victor Davis Hanson has noted, “We are not in a war with a crook in Haiti, this is no Grenada or Panama, or even Kosovo or Bosnia. No, we are in a worldwide struggle the likes of which we have not seen since World War II. In a war such as this, the alternative is not a brokered peace, but abject Western suicide and all that it entails.”
As for President Bush, this is not his Vietnam, nor is it even his Tet, but he is certainly at a tipping point, no thanks to the irresponsibility of the “loyal” opposition. The need is for a “crisis speech”, as described by Carnes Lord in The Modern Prince, to stop the psychological and political bleeding now, and Bush is the only one who can do it. As an example, he offers an excerpt from Churchill’s first address to the House of Commons in 1940: “…victory—victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be.” The President should grab some old Churchill speeches and hit the road!