by Slade Mendenhall and Brian Underwood
It is said that history is recorded by its victors. Apart from the traditional understanding of this maxim, we at The Mendenhall offer another interpretation: that ultimate victory does not come from those who fight the battles, but from those who write of them. The history of an era, as written and interpreted by its intellectuals, not only allows future generations to look back and learn the lessons of their predecessors, but also sets the cultural tone for years to come. So vital is the emergence of a rational culture to the actualization of our own interests, we have taken it upon ourselves at the end of each year to summarize and analyze the year previous from an objective, capitalist perspective.
Perhaps more than any year that this publication has yet reviewed, 2012 was colossal in its significance for American politics and culture. In ways both good and bad, it witnessed changes in office and, perhaps of more lasting importance, changes in popular thought and debate. While the centrality of the presidential primaries and general election to the year’s narrative cannot be overstated and the biennial American struggle of Left versus Right waged on, it was the content of the struggles not simply between the two parties, but within them that may come to matter most. With the continued influence of the Tea Party slowly coming to be matched by an increasingly polarized Democratic platform, Americans witnessed a widening chasm between the two parties that gave rise to what was, perhaps, the characteristic symbol of American politics in 2012: the moderate conservative desperately trying to maintain footing on a sinking middle ground, patronizing limited-government advocates while clinging to a pragmatist philosophy and conceding fundamental principles to an increasingly emboldened Left. It is a reaction that is to be expected from the old-guard leadership of the Right, elected long before the Tea Party fervor of 2010. In both House and Senate, they visibly struggle to helm what is quickly becoming a very different party than that of the social crusaders and compromisers who raced with President Clinton to develop their own version of an Affordable Care Act in the 1990s or who supported discussions of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage under President George W. Bush. It is a reaction that is to be understood, but never accepted. To the contrary, the pragmatism and devout moderation of the old Right could be deemed to have been the most resilient obstacle to American freedom in 2012 and one that pervades nearly every issue of our domestic policy.
Since the earliest stages of the Republican Primary, small government advocates were reasonably disenchanted with the field of prospects. Most of the more popular Tea Party favorites declined to participate in the race, leaving the GOP with a large list of virtual no-names, newcomers, and members of the Republican old guard (both moderates and the Religious Right) to choose between. So lacking was the field of any strong challengers that most political analysts presumed early on that Romney would be the eventual nominee. While some of these no-names and newcomers attained some degree prominence at various points in the race, they never did so when it was crucially important — i.e., during or right before an actual primary. And still, among the excessively large initial list of candidates vying for the Republican ticket, but a fraction bore any resemblance to the principles of the Tea Party and the growing corps of advocates for a rational government. Unfortunately, none of these candidates received the Republican nomination.
Herman Cain’s campaign collapsed in the midst of allegations of sexual impropriety and workplace harassment. Michele Bachmann’s campaign was simply run poorly and never thrust her into the spotlight. Gary Johnson, too much of an unknown on the national stage to receive much support, left the Republican Party and irrationally threw his lot in fully with the Libertarians, leading that party to an embarrassing and inevitable defeat with less than one percent of the nation’s popular vote. Texas Congressman Ron Paul effectively ended his own campaign through repeated, patently irrational statements regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran and his pacifistic foreign policy. The remaining candidates — nothing but slight variants of the two most traditional types of Republican candidate (the Religious Right-winger and the pragmatic centrist) — simply failed to outshine the most politically tactful and well-known candidates in those categories, that is, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney respectively.
In the primary’s final months, Republican voters had to decide between these two remaining candidates (though Ron Paul had not withdrawn from the race, his candidacy was all but irrelevant in the race for the nomination at that point). Fmr. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Fmr. Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts were the last viable candidates vying for the Republican nomination — Santorum with his “holier than thou” crusade on behalf of the Religious Right, and Romney with his metamorphic pragmatism from the Republican Establishment. The race itself mimicked that of the 2008 primary perfectly, as an avid representative from the Religious Right (Huckabee, in 2008) sought to overtake the Republican Establishment’s choice of an amorphous centrist (McCain). To the credit of Republican voters, they did not select Rick Santorum to represent them. To their shame, they nominated Mitt Romney.
The unreasonably prolonged campaign of Rick Santorum and the eventual nomination of Mitt Romney is indicative of an ongoing, and now sharpening conflict within Republican ranks over that party’s political narrative. Going forward into the twenty-first century, will the GOP be the party determined to codify the Bible into legal statutes, or the party that pursues watered-down versions of the policies already pursued by the Democrats? The party that believes the country will collapse if schoolchildren are not compelled to recite the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, or the party that fails to recognize that the country is headed for collapse? These two narratives are not mutually exclusive, as the presidency of George W. Bush effectively wedded both across eight years of increasing statism and shrinking individual liberties. Since the 2008 election in which Sen. John McCain, decidedly not a member of the Religious Right, lost to President Obama, relations between the religiocentric and establishment wings of the Republican Party have strained as the Religious Right blames the Republican Establishment for “abandoning God” and the Republican Establishment blames the Religious Right for not “falling in line” with seasoned Republican leadership.
Advocates of reason must not allow the GOP to adopt either narrative, as both would spell defeat for the Republicans, unfortunately the only political force capable of holding the more consistently statist Democratic Party at bay, for the foreseeable future. It is reasonably disconcerting that the only political force on whom those in favor of a rational government can rely is the Republican Party, but in this struggle for control of the ideology behind the Republican Party, there is great opportunity. Whereas the Libertarian Party has an avowedly and explicit subjectivist philosophy guiding it and the Democratic Party too consistently accepts the premises of altruist and nihilist moral doctrines to be much affected by rational influence in the near future, the Republican Party is in a state of ideological flux — it can be reformed, shaped, seized, and exploited to engage in rational politics through the relentless efforts of those seeking to change America’s political culture towards the individualism and individual rights it once revered.
This is why this publication has focused so heavily on the Tea Party. So vital is the introduction of a rational ideological narrative into America’s political culture that any movement proclaiming the virtues of “free markets, fiscal responsibility, and constitutionally limited government” — not just proclaiming them, but understanding them and meaning it — deserves a great deal of encouragement and assistance so that it might discover the rational philosophy on which those conclusions must rest. And while the Tea Party or Tea Party leaning candidates were overlooked in the Republican presidential race (more due to self-inflicted wounds than anything else), the Tea Party as a whole has experienced no small measure of success. The ascendancy of the Republican Party in the 2010 midterms is largely attributable to the efforts of the Tea Party, the Tea Party has caucuses in both chambers of Congress (which often frustrate GOP leadership), and young Tea Party lawmakers like Sen. Rand Paul, Rep. Justin Amash, and others appear to have bright futures ahead of them in politics.
But 2012 will not have been the year in which the Tea Party wrested control of the GOP from its establishment or the Religious Right. Instead, 2012 will have been a year of political déjà vu in which the Republican Party marched down the same path as it did in 2008, no less reluctantly and to no more success. It is said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The Republican Party serves as living proof of this maxim.
Despite conventional political analysis, Mitt Romney was not the strongest contender on the Republican field — not to challenge President Obama, at least. In fact, he was one of the weakest, and should have been ruled out from the beginning due to the simple fact that almost nothing ideologically separated him from Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican nominee who lost to Barack Obama by crushing margins. Perhaps Republicans thought that running the same candidate in the body of a younger man with some executive and business experience would lead to different results. Of course, none of that changed the fact that Romney was still virtually the same candidate, and ran virtually the same campaign. That the results of the election were equally similar should have thus been wholly unsurprising.
Fundamentally, the 2012 presidential election was a choice between pragmatism and nihilism. Despite the best efforts of the Republicans to turn the election into a general referendum on Obama’s policies of the previous four years, they overlooked the single most important component of political campaigns: offering an actual alternative and demonstrating why that alternative is preferable. Though the president’s record ought to have been damning, he won reelection by a comfortable margin, down only two states from 2008. Elections may very well be multivariable functions, but some variables carry heavier weight than others, and in 2012, it was Romney’s own pragmatism which sealed his demise.
It is difficult to argue that the vast majority of Americans reelected President Obama because they adore his policies and job performance, especially considering how many Americans simply decided not to vote this election cycle (over three hundred seventy-one thousand fewer people showed up to vote in Ohio compared to 2008, and over four hundred sixty-four thousand fewer in Pennsylvania). Certainly, many Americans do approve of the president’s performance, and there are enough of them to push him to reelection. Still, this alone does not account for the utter failure of the Romney campaign to do any better than the McCain campaign beyond picking up the traditional Republican strongholds of North Carolina and Indiana.
The reason for this, as has been iterated loudly and frequently in this publication following the election, is that Romney lacked principle and thus the capacity to make principled arguments. While President Obama’s policies are derived from a nihilistic philosophy — that is, one which seeks destruction for its own sake, not even for some ill-conceived altruistic purpose — Romney’s policies, to the extent that he had any stable ones, were based upon nothing. He was wholly incapable of offering any alternative to the president’s policies due to his want of any fundamental goal towards which he was striving. Romney’s only real goal was to be elected President of the United States, but then what? This was the question the American public posed to Mitt Romney, and this was the question he could not answer. He could not challenge the president’s policies except on the concrete level, leaving the president with a distinct advantage: the ability to argue that the concrete effects of his policies are unimportant to the justifications beyond the policies themselves — that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, that man is his brother’s keeper, that justice means giving the unearned to the undeserving, that A is not A. Despite the abhorrent nature of these policies, the quasi-moral rhetoric with which the president delivers them must be dismantled in order for the layman to see these policies in all their naked depravity. This, again, requires the application of principles to see beyond the superficial to the fundamental, to comprehend the fundamental, and relay that information to the public along with reasons why it should be rejected or adopted.
This Romney could not do. His lack of principle had long been a matter of concern even among Republicans, who feared that he would buckle under national pressure and frequently yield to Democratic demands. Little did they know that it would inhibit his very ability to reach the Oval Office. What once was considered a political asset — the ability to compromise on anything, even the most sacred of principles — can now be seen for what it is: a failure. The strategy of agreeing with your opponent to defeat him is a fool’s errand. Were Barack Obama one of the relics of the “Great Moderation” like Joe Lieberman, nothing but an equally pragmatic centrist on the Democratic side, Mitt Romney may have stood a chance. But the Left in America today is not like its former incarnations. It is directed and determined, driven by near fanatical belief in the efficacy of the state as the solution to man’s problems and an ever-growing cognizance and acceptance of the fundamental premises and irrational doctrines which underlie that statism. They do think and argue on principled terms, even if those principles are markedly low on the Y-axis of cognition/abstraction. And as a result, Romney was doomed to lose from the start, lest he came to realize the importance of ideas when he needed them the most, in the final months of the campaign.
Apart from the race between Obama and Romney, the Libertarian Party again demonstrated itself to be little beyond a political sideshow. There is no room for third parties in the United States — such is the nature of our electoral system. Yet against all reason, not that Libertarians are particularly known for being reasonable, the Libertarians declared that assured defeat in voting for Johnson was still preferable to a Romney presidency. This is nothing but an extension of libertarianism’s rejection of ideas and lack of an underlying philosophy. The intrinsic value the Libertarian Party places on liberty does not explain why it is valuable or even what it is, and thus they have no means of pursuing it. Rather than seeing the choices before them as they are, they would rather whine of how the choices before them were different than they are and then act as if by wishing it, it made it so. The Libertarian Party is like a caged animal, thrashing about against the walls of its cage in search of a way out, lacking the rational ability to see the open door at the other end of the cage. In sum, in the battle for a rational government, Libertarian Party ought not to be counted on to effect that change, and should be disregarded as a viable mechanism through which to achieve a rational government.
In relation to congressional races, the Republican Party failed dismally in its attempt to gain control of the Senate. During the beginning of the year when the Republicans were still operating, to an extent, off the political momentum of 2010, the Republicans had a solid chance to pick up enough Senate seats to gain control of that chamber. As that momentum faded due to the lack of a strong presidential candidate to lead the party and the nation forward, these prospects became less certain. Yet the slowing momentum was nothing in comparison to the gaffes which would soon follow.
Defeat in the Senate came almost entirely courtesy of the Religious Right. Two states in particular — Indiana and Missouri — were almost definitive GOP pickups in 2012. First, Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin made the ridiculous, anti-scientific claim that pregnancy does not occur from “legitimate rape,” predictably outraging Missouri voters and the nation at large. Numerous high-ranking figures in the Republican Party and the Right in general called for his withdrawal, including Mitt Romney, Reince Preibus, Ann Coulter, the Tea Party Express, and many others. He fell from a decided lead to ten points behind incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill in a matter of days, and it is not wholly unfortunate that he did — this nation does not need any more preachers like Akin on the national pulpit. According to the New York Times, Sen. McCaskill’s campaign actually financed political ads favoring Akin in the primary stage, assumingly in anticipation of him saying something stupid. The tactic of hand picking one’s opponent is not novel (Nevada Sen. Harry Reid did the same in 2008), and Missouri Republican voters unfortunately did not have the same foresight as the McCaskill campaign, though the overwhelming condemnation from within the GOP for his statements is a strong sign of the Republicans’ gradual move away from its religiocentric past towards a more secular future.
Second, the race in Indiana ended through similarly ridiculous statements by Republican candidate Richard Mourdock, who stated that pregnancy which occurred from rape was “something God intended.” Unlike Akin who damned his campaign almost as soon as he won the primary, Mourdock basically tripped at the finish line, making his gaffe less than two weeks before the actual election and casting a pall over the remaining Republican candidates which would not dissipate before Election Day. The prospects of a GOP-controlled Senate were crushed, actually allowing the Democrats to pick up two additional seats (Indiana, it should be noted, was in Republican control before this election, and voted for Mitt Romney on the presidential level).
Perhaps the only positive aspect of the 2012 Senate races is that Ted Cruz, the Republican candidate for Senate in Texas (and thus the almost assured winner) is aligned with the Tea Party movement. He defeated that state’s lieutenant governor in the primary (who had been supported by the vast majority of the GOP Establishment) and went on to easily win the election. With Texas as the largest Republican stronghold backing Tea Party candidates, there is considerable hope for the advancement of the Tea Party into the future.
There is some small reason for additional optimism among those opposed to President Obama: the House of Representatives remains under solid control by the Republican Party. More than that, even if the Democrats had won all the “toss-up” seats (they did not, as an aside), they would have still failed to win back the House. Now, the Republicans currently in the House have enough districts either “leaning” in their favor or “likely” to produce a Republican representative that the House will likely remain in Republican control through the end of President Obama’s second term (provided there is not a “black swan event” which could shake up that balance). Now-famed political science analyst Nate Silver of the New York Times (who has applied the science of sabermetrics to political elections which remarkable success) notes as much, arguing that the Republicans will likely maintain the House after the 2014 midterm.
Yet despite the numbers, Republican leadership is scrambling to re-instigate its century-old policy of “me-tooing” the Democratic Party. Fearing (without much reason) that the defeats in the Senate and the presidential race will soon translate into defeats in the House, the establishment Republicans in control of that chamber are again demonstrating their lack of principle by yielding to the demands of an emboldened President Obama and Democratic Party. Rather than seeing that Mitt Romney lost in his bid for the presidency because he was a centrist who lacked principles, Republican leaders like House Speaker John Boehner accept the predominant, and incorrect, analysis of the election that Romney was not principled enough in his centrism. If, they maintain, he had accomplished the impossible — running a campaign of compromising on principles without compromising on principles — he could have won the election.
The Republican leadership fails to see that Romney’s ability to compromise with anyone on any subject is not a political resource. Rather, it was the very reason he lost the election. Any analysis arguing that Romney lost his presidential bid because he was not “moderate enough” (and there are many such analyses) is itself anti-intellectual. True though it is that several principles of the Republican Party ought to be abandoned — i.e. those social values vehemently clung to by the Religious Right — the Republican Party’s economic principles are not what the American public rejected in the 2012 election cycle. How can anyone be sure? Because Mitt Romney did not run on those principles. He himself rejected them and any other principle. He was inconsistent, losing not for religion-saturated rhetoric like Akin and Mourdock, but because of his blatant lack of principle on any level. Though the lessons of the 2012 election cycle ought to be clear, Speaker Boehner and the Republican Establishment do not appear to have learned any of them. They are as of yet unwilling to admit that it is their own failure to truly separate themselves from their Democratic opponents, not in policy but in principle, that is the cause of their defeat.
Amidst the decidedly negative results of the November presidential and senatorial elections, there are positive signs of the sort that speak to long-term political trends and shifts. One such sign came well after the elections, in December, with the announcement of Senator Jim DeMint’s (R-SC) resignation in January, his placement as president of cornerstone conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, and Governor Nikki Haley’s choice of Tea Party conservative Tim Scott as DeMint’s replacement. There are two important (and positive) takeaways from the change. The first is in the selection of Scott as replacement. By all appearances, he is a devoted advocate of limited government and will be a valued advocate of fiscal reason in the Senate. He is also part of what can be considered a second wave of Tea Party legislators– members of the caucus who have come into office since the sweep of 2010 and whose placements and victories reinforce the image of the caucus as a presence in American politics that is here to stay. At a time when its opponents remain determined to fight it not on ideological terms or even primarily in concrete policy, but through petty jabs, smears, and personal attacks, it will be endurance and a laser focus on rational principles of governance– the limitation of government to its proper purposes and the defense of individual rights– that will enable it to weather the passing storms.
In turn, the placement of Jim DeMint, a devoted advocate of small government and a Tea Party Caucus member, as president of The Heritage Foundation symbolizes the long distance that the think tank has come since the days when its scholars once endorsed the sort of public option health program that would later become ObamaCare. Considering the significance of The Heritage Foundation to conservative scholarship and opinion, it also speaks to the increasing centrality of the Tea Party message to that all-too-ambiguous and historically unconstant notion of “conservatism”.
Interestingly, it is a message that appears altogether lost on the Left, leading many among them to gravely misrepresent the caucus and its adherents and others to simply evade its message altogether, opting for emotionalist smears and ad hominem attacks over intellectual debate. Unable to effectively deny or refute the Tea Party’s claims of severe impending economic problems, a hollow recovery, and ineffectuality bordering on ineptitude by the Obama Administration, the Left remains insistent upon defaming the Tea Party on grounds which no rational interpretation of its words and actions could substantiate. Intriguingly, they have continued to portray the Tea Party caucus, generally the most secular conservative group in generations, as social conservative crusaders and religious extremists. With a total lack of explanation, they still attempt to perpetuate the vicious smear of the Tea Party as populated by racists whose focus on limited government and enmity toward entitlement programs is, they say, rooted in an unspoken wish to bring misfortune to America’s minorities. Ironically, they pay little heed to the implicit racism in their own statements, which suggest that minorities would be utterly hopeless and condemned were it not for the support of government programs. As the Tea Party Caucus becomes more racially diverse over time with the election of members such as Tim Scott, the hollow nature of their accusations will become increasingly obvious.
More malicious than these accusations and acutely indicative of the sort of primal fear which collectivists feel at their core when faced by those who are aware of and assert their own rights, there is yet another accusation continually leveled by the Left against the Tea Party– one without even a trace of evidentiary support. It is the accusation that Tea Partiers are or ever have been affiliated with violent terrorism of any kind. Left-leaning news outlets such as the New York Times, The Atlantic, the Washington Post, and ABC’s Good Morning America as well as politicians such as Michael Bloomberg have attempted to pin on the Tea Party such atrocities as the July 2012 movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado; the January 2011 Gabrielle Giffords shooting; the September 2010 hostage incident at Discovery Communication headquarters; the attempted Time Square bombing in May 2010; the March 2010 shooting at the Pentagon station of the Washington Metro Transit System; the February 2010 shooting by a professor at University of Alabama in Huntsville; the February 2010 kamikaze attack on an IRS building; the September 2009 suicide of a census-taker (initially thought to be a murder). Of those, incidentally, four were later found to have leftist leanings and affiliations, with the Aurora shooter having ties to Occupy Wall Street’s violent Black Bloc faction. A fifth, Gabrielle Giffords’ shooter Jared Loughner, was registered as independent but was reportedly an avid reader and admirer of Marx’s Communist Manifesto and Hitler’s Mein Kampf, both avowedly socialist tracts antithetical to the guiding philosophy of the Tea Party.
Its desperation in making such grossly unfounded accusations is indicative of the growing intellectual void at the heart of the American Left. Where once there existed the stereotype of the Right as excessively traditional, anti-intellectual, religious extremists who spurned progress and harkened to some undefined, lost ideal of a bygone era, one now sees in the Tea Party the signs of a new set of principles– secularism, a respect for individual rights, and a focus on fiscal and economic issues matched by a diminishing interest in government oversight of private social matters (see: the recent rise in support for gay marriage on the Right).
Why, then, would the Left attempt to fight their battles through such pettiness? Because petty viciousness gives the appearance of debate while evading its concomitant: intellectualism. Why would it not respond on the level on which it is challenged– the level of morality and ideas? Because responding on the level of morality and ideas would require looking boldly and unflinchingly at its own philosophy, revealing the patent irrationality at the base of its convictions. Why does it increasingly revert to pleas for moderation from the Right before rashly attempting to ram through ObamaCare, enact destructive regulations, retain doomed entitlement programs, and increase taxes on “the rich”, despite having been warned by every auditing bureau, report and dataset available that these policies will be incredibly detrimental to the economy? It seeks moderation from opponents where it has no answer to give, where it abandons reason, compromises principles, and asks that others do the same. It enacts damaging policies without regard for consequences because, consciously or otherwise, it practices a philosophy of its own– altruism— which has never, in any of its many historic incarnations, shown regard for ultimate consequences, only for an end in itself: the continual sacrifice of all to all.
The philosophy at the root of the Left, however, is slipping through in profound ways. Its mask is slipping and, when it does, despite their many inconsistencies and mixed premises, the American people have rightly rejected it, as they did to President Obama’s “You didn’t build that” speech this past summer or his campaign’s “Julia” approach in which a fictitious woman was portrayed at every stage of her life, from birth until death, as being cared for and supported by the federal government. Both showed a boldly explicit collectivism and denial of individual efficacy that Americans have rarely come to witness in their presidents. Even as true a symbol of American populism as Theodore Roosevelt or as strong an advocate of statist controls as FDR would have opposed such an assault on personal achievement and the suggestion that Americans live cradle to grave on the government’s provisions.
It is in such moments that it becomes clear that the gradual discovery by Republicans of the founding principles of our government– freedom and individual rights– is indeed being accompanied by a further shift away from these ideals by Democrats who, despite their cries for moderation, are themselves moving away from the center. As often occurs in such instances, a reform in the direction of basic principles by one party (Republicans, via the Tea Party, starting to embrace the principles of individual rights) has demanded the same of its opponents (the Left becoming more avowedly collectivist) should they wish to retain power. The result has been an unsteadiness within the ranks of the American Left, one that the media has neglected to cover and has thoroughly attempted to mask when it becomes so blatant as to demand attention. The boisterous and vehement displays of anger at the Democratic National Convention in September over its party platform’s recognition of Israel, the reportedly considerable majority of delegates who, by a display of hands, voted to change the platform, and the decision of the moderator, seemingly acting on pre-established orders, to ignore the vote tally and announce the decision to retain the platform as-is provides a perfect example of the unrest among the Left’s rank-and-file and the attempt by party leadership to maintain the appearance of unity. Sadly, it was never given the sort of hyper-scrutinizing media coverage afforded to every remark by a Republican lawmaker that could be construed as a rift between Republican leadership and the Tea Party caucus. Mainstream media that practically ignored the former consistently gave undue coverage to the latter. (Speaking strictly of the earlier parts of the year, to say nothing of the final months, when a stark divide has indeed developed between the Tea Party and Speaker Boehner.) Merely one more distortion by an American media driven by a Democratic agenda, the desire to paint the Right as riddled with inner divisions and unsteadiness has come at the expense of an interesting story in itself: a rapidly changing Left that is struggling to hold the middle while inching gradually toward a polar extreme of its own, coming face to face with the underlying philosophical premises of its policies in the process.
To supporters of individual rights, this uncertainty on the Left should be viewed as an opportunity. The more that the Republican Party will proudly accept the role of being the party of capitalism, individualism, and a return to the vision of the Founding Fathers in authoring the US Constitution, the more exposed the Democratic Party, in all of its unsteadiness and inner contradictions, will become. To do this, however, it must cease to be the party of compromisers, pragmatists, and apologists for a mixed economy. It must become a party of principles– not only for the sake of a moral ideal, but as a matter of political tact as well. As in all matters of human endeavor, so in politics: the moral is the practical.
Ayn Rand once wrote, “In any conflict between two men (or two groups) who hold the same basic principles, it is the more consistent one who wins.” To the extent that Republicans become consistently and in all matters the party of capitalism, they will force a dilemma for Democrats: a) stay the course, claiming to believe in a measure of economic freedom while advocating regulations, controls, antitrust witch-hunts, class-warfare, ever-increasing taxation, and the growth of untenable entitlement programs, or b) renounce the claim to a belief in economic freedom and invest fully in a collectivist, socialist ideology that underpins all of the other policy prescriptions. Here is where power relations come into play: by choosing option A, Democrats accept the same basic premise of the Republicans, but practice it inconsistently, giving Republicans the moral high ground and themselves the appearance of incompetence at best and hypocrisy at worst. Republicans would then only have to keep the debate on the level of ideology and its consistent implementation to consistently win out over Democrats; by choosing option B, Democrats could remain contenders in the contest for power, though ones whose cause is not substantiated by the founding spirit of this nation. They would become, effectively, a Social Democrat party pushed into the light for all to see, free of obfuscation and equivocation. In a country that, despite its many cultural flaws and inconsistencies, still maintains a respect for individualism and a belief in basic freedoms, such an avowed denial of the individual would have little sympathy from the general public.
Careful strategy and scrutiny of its principles will be crucial for Republicans going forward and hopefully 2012 will have been a learning experience. Sadly, the retention of President Obama and the Democratic majority in the Senate are now a foregone conclusion that must be contended with as avidly as– if more wisely than– they have been for the last four years. In the end, the 2012 elections were simply the maintenance of a very disappointing status quo. Claims by the Left of a “mandate” for Obama’s policies and rash fatalism by those on the Right are equally misguided. In practical terms, little has changed in terms of the balance of power between the two parties. The narrow margin by which Obama took the nation’s popular vote and the few credible accomplishments to which his supporters could point in justifying their endorsement of him has made it a victory with little momentum. The sole, shameful distinction of his reelection is that of being the only president other than FDR to have won reelection despite such a dismal economy as this. He enters his second administration with a “jobless” recovery in which unemployment has held above seven percent, an inflated stock market drawing more suspicion with time, and a soaring national debt scheduled to reach its limit in the first week of the new year. Ominously, another parallel may be emerging between Obama’s recession and FDR’s Great Depression: that of 2013 and 1937, the date of the “depression within a depression” in which the reelection of the incumbent was interpreted by the administration as a “mandate”, sparking the implementation of a sudden rash of imprudent economic and regulatory policies that reversed an unsteady recovery, tipping the scales on a stock market that had soared unreasonably high and sending the economy spiraling down again, not to see true, fundamental recovery again until well after World War II. Though macroeconomic forecasting is often rightly interpreted as a “fool’s errand” and we shy from fatalistic predictions, the similarities are striking and further substantiated by the administration’s determination to maintain an ever-increasing regulatory burden on American business that may ultimately make the gravely feared ObamaCare merely one culprit among many.
Still, Obamacare remains, above all other policies, a symbol of this administration’s statist depravity. It is the flagship of his presidency, and yet another stepping stone in the path to the socialism’s crown jewel over the healthcare industry in the United States: a universal healthcare system managed exclusively by the government. And according to the Supreme Court of the United States, Obamacare is the law of the land.
The Court’s ruling came as a shock to all Americans, regardless of their political persuasion. While many had entertained the possibility of the Court upholding the Affordable Care Act as constitutional, none predicted that it would come courtesy of Chief Justice Roberts, a George W. Bush appointee. Citing the same damnable precedent which upheld the Social Security Act of 1935, Roberts, the author of the majority opinion, argued that the “individual mandate” requiring Americans to purchase personal health insurance or pay a fine fell within the government’s power to tax for the “general welfare.” As perverse as this ruling is, and as absurd as it is to argue that taxation for the “general welfare” gives Congress additional powers not enumerated in the succeeding clauses, it stands, granting ever more authority to the federal government. President Obama did not need to appeal to the Commerce Clause for justification of his policies — indeed, that argument was rejected by the Court. All he needed as a misinterpretation and misapplication of Congress’s already immoral power to tax, and he was given his policy.
Even more unfortunate is that the dissenting opinion failed to offer adequate refutation of the majority’s opinion. All the dissenting justices had to offer was primarily an argument over superficialities — whether or not the individual mandate constituted a tax or not — whereas they should have argued that it would be unconstitutional regardless. While taxes are immoral, Congress’s current power to tax is so distant from what the Founders intended that the debate itself now lends assistance to the statist forces passing policies like Obamacare. If the individual mandate is a fine, it is unconstitutional, but if it is a tax, it is acceptable? It is this kind of insanity which has plagued the United States political system for far too long, and Justice Roberts’s ruling only exacerbates the situation.
Crucial to the fight over ObamaCare going forward is, as Dr. Paul Hsieh described it, “controlling the narrative” of the legislation. By continuing to actively fight for the way in which the Affordable Care Act is characterized in the media, by drawing attention to the high costs and inefficiencies which its enactment will indisputably inflict upon the economy, and by highlighting how, as under all regulated industries and professions, the positive values to individuals result not from those aspects which are regulated, but which are left free, defenders of individual rights in medicine will proverbially “keep the heat on” the new policies and any who try to defend them. As is the perennial luxury of defenders of liberty, reality is firmly on their side, as early OMB estimates of the ACA have shown. All that is required to keep the bill and its programs vulnerable to repeal is to escape the stale complaisance which surround discussions of now-behemoth programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, by refusing to accept it as a foregone conclusion or a lost cause. Time and positive cultural change will do the rest.
As though an overwhelmingly expensive and inefficient government health program, lack of investment, pervasively high unemployment, market uncertainty, and threat of tax increases were not enough to dampen economic recovery, Americans must contend with yet another obstacle, this one willingly imposed by its elected officials in congress and the White House: the growing burden of regulation. In the wake of his November victory, President Obama’s regulatory agencies are unleashing a new rash of business regulations likely to cost American industry unforeseeable sums in coming years. A mere half dozen of the new rules put forward by the EPA will reportedly deprive private industry of over half a trillion dollars in compliance costs and foregone future construction and capital investment projects. With roughly 2000 new regulations being issued every month, a rising cost of compliance, the near impossibility of businesses in many industries remaining at all times within the law, and the selective prosecutions of businesses who do violate rules, any presidential administration that claims to be working to improve the nation’s economy and increase employment is either patently dishonest or so economically illiterate as to make a freshman business major in his first week of classes look like Adam Smith. In truth, Americans are being swindled by a bureaucracy more concerned with the achievement of nihilistic, far-Left ideological causes and loyalty to anti-industrial interest groups than they have ever been with the return of America to economic prosperity. Here again, the remedy lies in controlling the narrative– recognizing the costs and effects of government regulation of industry and refusing to accept allegations that the resultant rise in prices and decline in quality of products and services is the fault of private industry. By keeping the focus on the effects of regulation and the problems it engenders, defenders of individual rights and liberties can keep the new regulations subject to constant debate and controversy, making possible their future repeal and a sea change in favor of capitalism.
In the meantime, the United States faces continual budgetary woes. Despite Obama’s lofty promises in 2008, the federal budget remains unbalanced and public debt is spiraling upwards. And as usual, it is the American taxpayer rather than the government bureaucrat on the chopping block.
Early in 2012, a tax cut instituted by George W. Bush was set to expire. The so-called “payroll tax cut” set off national debate in Congress as the fate of this tax decrease hung in the balance. In the end, the president yielded, throwing his weight behind an extension in the wake of the upcoming election, but only on another temporary basis (it will expire on the first of 2013. Per today’s norm in Washington, politicians refuse to take principled stands on anything, even something as publicly popular as cutting taxes. These cuts in taxes, along with all other temporary cuts, ought to be made permanent, thus requiring their opponents to openly argue for their true goal: raising taxes, not “letting the tax cuts expire,” as goes the rhetoric of today’s Left.
Yet given the milquetoast character of the Republican leadership in Congress, the American people are not likely to even get an extension in other Bush tax cuts set to expire at the end of 2012. With the nation set to go over the “fiscal cliff” beginning January 1st, 2013 (meaning Congress must pass another appropriations bill for the government to continue functioning at its current level), Congress has spent all of its lame duck session attempting to reach an agreement on raising revenue and budgeting for the next fiscal year, especially considering the government has not passed a completed budget in years.
Unsurprisingly, the Democrats have rather successfully centered the debate around the deficit rather than the budget itself. By arguing that the deficit between revenue and expenditures is too vast, they have targeted another tax cut from the Bush Era — set to expire on the 1st of January — as a way to increase revenue and reduce the deficit. According to President Obama, the tax cuts should only be extended for families making $250,000 or less, thus increasing taxes on everyone else. They have distracted the greater portion of their Republican opposition from the fact that the government simply spends too much to begin with and that the government is doing far more than it was ever intended to do, and though the Tea Party Caucus can be reasonably trusted to uphold the “anti-tax pledge” they took upon entering office, the Republican leadership cannot. Following the same dead-end strategy as Mitt Romney, many have followed Speaker Boehner in agreeing that the government should raise more tax revenue. Thinking they can “compromise” and raise taxes on only those making $1M a year rather than $250,000 a year will both keep the president’s march towards statism at bay and satisfy their constituents, the Republican leadership has offered a number of plans permitting some tax increase while also asking for meager cuts in future spending. They are mistaken on both accounts. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain did not keep Nazism at bay by granting Czechoslovakia to Hitler in 1938, and the Republicans will not keep socialism at bay in this country by granting its advocates what they want. They are not playing a game of chess where a short-term loss of one’s queen can lead to an endgame which suits them better. Rather, they a playing with people’s lives and livelihoods in a manner which only grants the government increased control over both, moving the government closer to socialism, not further from it. Second, a violation of their anti-tax pledge remains a violation no matter on whom they raise taxes. To use Ayn Rand’s famous example, an honest man who only lies some of the time is not actually an honest man — he is a liar. In the same way, a politician who promises not to raise taxes on anyone but then proceeds to raise taxes on only “top income earners” has violated his pledge in full, and should be held culpable for doing so.
Any arguments that such tax increases are “necessary” are of no merit. First, the government is funded through March of 2013, so all fatalistic rhetoric about the “fiscal cliff” is premature — the only thing really at stake at this point are the tax cuts, and they should be extended. Second, many predict an economic downturn if government spending does not continue at the same rate. To that, the writers of this publication ask: so what? The old Keynesian policies of “propping up” the economy with government spending are unsustainable and immoral all the same. All the spending has done is produce the artificial appearance of an economic recovery. If the economy (or, more appropriately, the GDP and unemployment rate) is so reliant on government spending that a decrease in spending will injure it, then it ought to be cut off from the government’s teat so that it may operate as it should: alone. The allocation of the fruits of one man’s productive abilities to fund a failing solar panel industry, to funnel guns into Mexico, to pay for government welfare, or to do anything except that which the original owner intended to is unacceptable. Even in the final hours of the “fiscal cliff” debates, the politicians in Washington still fail to see the issue at hand. It is not about the government coming up with a solution to “push the economy forward” — it is about the government spending too much, taxing too much, and doing too much. If President Obama thinks his reelection is a public mandate to do as he wishes, it is the responsibility of the Republican opposition to remind him that it is not — that in most congressional districts in this country, his party lost, and that it is he who must yield if he wants to reach any rational agreement. So far, he has not done so, and unfortunately, it does not appear that the Republican Party will hold fast. More than likely, a “bipartisan” agreement will be reached in which the Republican Establishment in the House casts off the fiscally sane members in its own ranks (i.e. the Tea Party), gives the Democrats most of what they seek, and grant President Obama a victory he could not do without them. Why is there reason for such pessimism? Because Speaker Boehner has already purged Tea Partiers from key committees, telling them to fall in line or face the consequences. Unfortunately, all Americans will likely face the consequences of Speaker Boehner’s own ineptitude.
At a time when an American president would seem to have all the problems and concerns he could handle– reviving a struggling economy, managing the resolution of two wars overseas, quelling the rising nuclear threats of Iran and North Korea, and a fiscal crisis that seems to elude all attempts at bipartisan agreement– President Obama’s first term has been wrought with one unnecessary controversy after another, all of which appearing to have been entirely avoidable had he properly overseen his administration, appointed officials who valued the proper performance of their positions over the pursuance of far-Left agendas, and in any way lived up to the image portrayed at his first inauguration of a leader who could put partisanship aside for the good of the country. Instead, this year alone witnessed an endless string of scandals: the “You Didn’t Build That” speech, a spiteful disparagement of business owners at a time when they are most needed to revive an economy suffering from low levels of investment and rife with the sense that the government is working against the nation’s producers; the continuation of the Fast and Furious investigations in which Attorney General Eric Holder and other Department of Justice officials evaded the requests of congress, refusing to produce subpoenaed documents and, in the case of Holder, giving inconsistent and contradictory testimony; the discovery of alias email accounts used internally by EPA officials, the purpose of which has yet to be conclusively determined; finally, the total failure by administration officials to initiate a timely military response to attacks by Islamic fundamentalists on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which the lives of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were lost. Despite the paltry concern afforded to them by most mainstream media outlets, two of these controversies– Fast and Furious and Benghazi– involved the murders of individuals serving on behalf of the United States. In the case of Stevens, his body was dragged by a cheering mob through the streets of Benghazi in a manner scarcely detailed by American news reports. Fortunately for the Obama Administration, they have an American press that remains soundly on their side, ready to ignore inconvenient stories wherever possible. It is within the comfort of such a gallery of blind eyes that elected officials are free to neglect their responsibilities to the people who elected them and betray the offices that they swore to uphold.
The culture of scandal and tumultuousness within the administration has translated into a predictable level of solidarity and personnel retention. The departure of Lisa Jackson, announced in the final week of the year, as head administrator of the most active incarnation of the Environmental Protection Agency that the US has ever seen comes at the end of a long line of Obama Administration departures, including CIA Director David Petraeus and no less than four major cabinet members from the president’s first term: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Atty. Gen. Eric Holder, Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, and Secretary of Commerce John Bryson, whose position has been held by an acting secretary since health problems took Bryson out of commission in June. An additional two– Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar– will remain for the time being, though neither appears likely to remain for a full second term. All of these cast changes coming at the end of a first term that has already seen the departure of one Secretary of Defense in Robert Gates and is now on its third chief of staff indicates yet another of the many reasons for the Obama team’s ineffectuality: administrative unrest, reluctant or distracted leadership, and, in the midst of the many scandals which have plagued this administration, an organizational culture in which more effort is spent avoiding blame than pursuing achievement.
The crowning embodiment of that culture came in the wake of the Benghazi scandal, which sparked a blame game between the White House, State Department, Department of Defense, and US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, for whom the scandal cost an appointment as Secretary of State in the coming term. Ironically, despite the host of high-profile officials departing amidst scandals, it may be the retention of some lower-level personnel at State that invites further trouble. In the last days of 2012, nearly four months after the attacks, it was discovered that those at State found accountable for the Benghazi fumble were still on its payroll, having been shuffled into new positions despite promises made by State to congress that they would no longer be employed there. The revelation of such indiscretions among the department’s rank-and-file and Secretary Clinton’s insistence upon continuing to evade testifying before congress ensure that Benghazi will remain a subject of investigation and a fixture in administrative and partisan turmoil continuing into 2013.
Secretary Clinton’s exit from the State Department, no doubt inspired by a very evident relationship of contention and blame between State and the White House in her time there, marks the end of a first term of indecisive, unprincipled management of United States foreign relations. The hopes of 2011 that the now ironically dubbed ‘Arab Spring’ would blossom into a wave of secular democracy and freedom have continued to prove ill-placed as nearly every country that held diplomatic and security significance to the United States there has turned or appears likely to turn in favor of Islamists. Though the White House and its media supporters attempted desperately to purvey the story that the Benghazi attack was merely the result of a mob enflamed by the posting of a YouTube video critical of Islam, the evidence quickly revealed it as an early sign of what US relations with the newly ‘liberated’ countries are likely to portend. In the end, the attack was revealed to have been coordinated and carried out by al-Qaeda operatives cheered on by local residents. The discovery was understandably evaded and ignored by the Obama Administration until the last possible moment. Libya’s was the one ‘Arab Spring’ uprising in which the president caved to international pressures and involved NATO forces in support of the rebels, with total disregard for al-Qaeda’s presence among their ranks, all on the claim that the Libyan people sought freedom and democracy. To see it now turn so violently against the United States, its people cheer in the streets as the sovereign soil of the United States was invaded and our personnel killed, is an incriminating statement on the administration’s past judgment. To see the White House evade the nature of the attack, the identity of its perpetrators, the root of its cause, and the responsibility of responding to an invasion of American soil is a far more damning statement: that, faced with its past mistakes, it does not seek to correct them.
In Egypt, Muslim-Brotherhood-backed President Mohamed Morsi, who, upon election this summer, received a call from President Obama congratulating him on his victory, lived up to the tradition of his organization by declaring dictatorial powers in December, placing his actions and decrees beyond judicial review (per this publication’s prediction at the onset of demonstrations in January 2011). After a bout of protests and popular unrest made the act politically untenable, Morsi temporarily rescinded aspects of it pending further debate. Nonetheless, despite his clear aspirations toward such a role and Egypt’s expression of support for Palestine in its November conflict with American ally Israel, the Obama Administration appears set to go forward with plans to gift 20 F-16 fighter jets to Egypt. For the Left’s many eager denouncements of US foreign policy having enabled the more secular dictator Hosni Mubarak’s thirty-year tenure, there now appears to be little concern for Obama’s many supportive actions toward Morsi.
Intriguingly, the now-considerable possibility that American jets could be used in combat by Egypt against Israel stands in stark contradiction with the clearly manipulated outcome of the aforementioned DNC platform vote, giving the impression that the Left and, more specifically, the administration wish to convey an appearance of solidarity with Israel for the sake of political expediency and the retention of the Jewish vote despite a growing sympathy in the Democratic Party for Israel’s many enemies in the Middle East. The impression is given further substantiation by the August discovery of an 82-page analysis authored by Obama’s intelligence community entitled “Preparing for a Post-Israel Middle East” in which American national interests are said to be fundamentally at odds with those of Israel. Despite all objections by administration officials to the contrary, the actions and policies of Obama and his departments indicate the most anti-Israel presidency that America has had since that nation’s establishment more than sixty years ago.
Case in point: Iran. Naturally, policy of the United States towards this Islamic theocracy has been a failure from the beginning, but President Obama’s own failure to confront the issue has worsened it more than any president before him. While the Islamic Republic of Iran continues to antagonize the West and its ally of Israel, the policy of President Obama has ignored the threat at hand. It is not for the fact that the United States could not handily defeat Iran in an open war that is the cause of concern. Rather, it is the damage which Iran can do if allowed to further develop its military capabilities, let alone funding America’s enemies abroad and attacks against its citizenry. Emboldened by decades of tough talk from American leaders without substantiation, the Islamic Republic of Iran has become ever more aggressive, threatening on multiple occasions to blockade the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Could it accomplish such a feat? Not likely for any extended period of time, but it is just another example of how far Iranian leadership thinks it can go without retaliation from the West. Not even the threat of such an affront to international trade and United States interests in the region should be tolerated, and yet the president tolerates it.
Worse still, he makes a mockery of the power of the United States when Iran captures unmanned aerial vehicles owned by the U.S. and displays them on state television. The initial event, which occurred in late 2011, should have been followed by either a U.S. team sent to recover the drone as soon as it was downed — by force, if necessary — or by a Tomahawk cruise missile to obliterate the drone beyond the possibility of reverse engineering. Instead, the president did nothing beyond “ask” that the Iranians give it back, a request that both Sec. of State Clinton and Defense Sec. Panetta said they never expected would be fulfilled. The Iranians, almost in disbelief he would even make the request, responded by saying that no nation on the face of the earth would simply return secret reconnaissance technology to its owner if it was being used against them. So to what point and purpose was the request made? Some irrational desire to look “diplomatic” before the international community, whose opinions ought not to be of concern when United States security — and the security of her allies — are at stake? This is but one more example of President Obama’s nihilism, and it will bring disaster to the United States if not corrected.
The drone capture was, unfortunately, among the least of the administration’s failures with regard to Iran. On November 1, Iranian fighter jets fired on a US drone in international waters over the Persian Gulf. Though the drone was not downed, the attack exemplified the aggression and will to provoke that has characterized Iran’s policies toward the US in the last four years. That the Obama Administration not only failed to respond to the attacks, but chose to keep them confidential for a week in the lead-up to the election shows its willingness to manipulate American citizens’ knowledge regarding security issues for personal political gain. This willingness was further displayed in the previous month when reports emerged revealing that the administration, instead of focusing on serious and lasting results to stop the growing threat of Iran’s nuclear program, had made a deal with the Iranian government for it to temporarily halt nuclear projects until after the US elections, persuading it with warnings that a Romney victory might actually mean a tougher and more judicious foreign policy toward them in the future. That the administration would take the situation so lightly as to play games with American security for personal gains displays a willingness at all costs to place its own interests over those of the people it represents.
Throughout the year, US-Chinese relations remained strained, especially after an election cycle in which the presidential candidates sought to outdo one another in anti-Chinese economic policies. Though China ought to be censured for its continuing and often flagrant violations of individual rights, America’s leaders are irrationally fixated on the imaginary “threat” of a growing Chinese economy. It is not for China’s patently totalitarian regime and its support — whether diplomatic or physical — towards the enemies of the United States, the West, and republican principles in general that America’s politicians even address the issue. Counter-intuitively, they attack the Asian dictatorship for its virtues, limited though they are, which have benefited the United States immensely as the People’s Republic of China has gradually abandoned its failed Communist policies in favor of a tenuous move toward economic liberalization that, if not nurtured by positive Western responses, could easily falter, reverting China to the policies of its past.
In spite of strict controls on political and social freedoms, the Chinese people have demonstrated an extraordinary economic resilience from the depths of Communism into the twenty-first century. While progress has been inconsistent, due to the inconsistent process of liberalization practiced by Chinese leadership, the economic growth of China in recent decades has been the subject of much attention from both intellectuals and even the layman, as the rapidly increasing number of physical goods stamped with the words “Made in China” has become almost impossible to ignore. In the wake of a disappearing American industrial sector, driven from the continent by books upon books of government licensing, taxation, and regulation, a combination of a disgruntled working force and a corps of opportunistic politicians has produced a recipe for disaster in US-Chinese relations if not handled properly. Seeking a scapegoat for harmful regulatory policies, backed by unions and passed by politicians, both the Left and the Right have reached a consensus that China suits the role well.
Rather than eliminate the anti-capitalist regulations which force businessmen to seek their self-interests on foreign shores, politicians would intensify such regulations, punishing any profit-seeking businessman for either outsourcing or offshoring their business. In a mixed economic system of political pull, many politicians have aligned themselves with American labor, holding the interests unions have in keeping industrial jobs on U.S. shores above those of the businessman to whom those laborers owe their jobs in the first place. Does this mean that politicians should alter their allegiances and thus push policies which unfairly benefit businesses to the detriment of unions (i.e. outlawing unionization)? Of course not, as that would be equally unjust. But the problem the United States faces currently is one in which American leaders fail to see that man lives for himself, not for his employee, not for the consumer, not the American people, and certainly not for the American government. If politicians were to adopt such a policy, all legislation contrary to that principle would be eliminated, and whether businesses left the United States or stayed would not be a matter of public concern. Instead, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama traded barbs over whose retirement plan used funds investing in Chinese businesses or businesses moving to China than the other. And while the “common good” does not override individual rights, they fail to see the immense public good served by cheap Chinese goods. More is produced from less, wealth is multiplied, the standard of living increases, and goods once too expensive for some now become available to an ever expanding consumer base. This is what politicians oppose?
Yes, if it comes at the expense of some irrational nationalism which holds that businessman should sacrifice their profits for the sake of the American laborer, despite that the American laborer benefits from the businessman seeking his self-interests. All recent talk about trade restrictions — taxes, quotas, or bans — on Chinese-made goods or businesses that operate in China is not only immoral in that it would violate the individual right all men have to trade freely with one another, but it is also destructive in that it can reverse the recent trend in Chinese liberalization. What benefit would Chinese leadership see in giving its population more freedom if the West only punishes it for doing so? Why trade so heavily with the United States if it is only hated for doing so? Why not simply re-nationalize every business currently in its borders, shut down Hong Kong, and be done with it? The People’s Republic of China is the most populous nation in the world, and the second largest in total land area. At long last, it is beginning to head in the right direction. Though it remains far from ideal, it should be encouraged to liberalize, economically and politically, not chastised for being more successful than the United States by doing what the United States ought to be doing anyway.
Looking towards one of China’s neighbors, North Korea has attempted to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile program with an aggressiveness matched only by its ineptitude. In the first year of Kim Jong Un’s time as head of state, North Korea has twice attempted to launch satellites into orbit, the first a horribly embarrassing failure, the other a moderate success. Sources disagree, however, as to how quickly that success could translate into a credible security threat to the US and Europe. In the meantime, the dismal spectacle of Pyongyang’s repeated technological failures stands as a symbol of the regressive effects of totalitarian dictatorship on scientific innovation and advancement– the inability of the mind to operate at the point of a gun.
If we are then, in all areas, to view philosophy, sense of life, and the intellectual culture they manifest as the motive force of America’s political progress (for good or bad), what is the state of that culture? Are the preconditions of capitalism and a proper system of government waning or on the rise? Fortunately, despite the nation’s seemingly dismal political forecast and economic unsteadiness, there continues to be a nascent cultural trend in favor of individualism and capitalism. Since the rise of the Tea Party to the political sphere in 2009, a concomitant (if much more gradual) cultural shift has emerged as well. In intellectual social issues, positive signs are showing. The last several years have seen a decline in popular interest in environmentalist causes and campaigns. Though the more popular narrative of the last recession (particularly abroad, but within the United States as well) has placed the blame soundly with bankers and private businesses, one finds a growing readiness to place some measure of accountability on government regulations and abuses by legislators. The increased legalization of gay marriage in numerous states has revealed an unprecedented openness by the general public toward the idea of same-sex couples achieving that right. Finally, having drifted gradually back to the labor unions, college campuses, coffee houses, and mothers’ basements from whence it came, Occupy Wall Street is now a distant memory. The attempt to revive it on the one-year anniversary turned merely into an occasion to recall how quickly it rose, how perversely it manifested, and how far it fell. In the end, perhaps the great culminating symbol of the movement was the entirely unfocused, anti-ideological, nihilistic way in which it faded, without ambition or coherence, from nothing into nothing, leaving only petty destruction, violence, vandalism, and rape along the way.
Other cultural features of the year proved disappointing. The emotionalist unrest over the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman shooting in February of this year, before anything resembling substantial evidence had been released, showed the country’s susceptibility to sensationalism and superficial factors such as race, with total disregard for the facts of the case (or, on the part of NBC, a distortion of the facts, when they edited audio tapes to support a false account of Zimmerman’s 911 call). “General indifference” may be the best term to describe the public’s response to the Obama Administration’s antitrust case against Apple. Despite iPads and iPhones flying off the shelves this Christmas as they have in years past, one does not find the disgust and resentment appropriate in Americans whose government is seeking to persecute a company that brings immense value and efficiency into their daily lives. Sadly, as a culture, we have not yet reached the point when the average citizen feels confident or motivated to defend the rights of businessmen. The anti-industrial Left lacks the steam that it had in the Bush years and its once-popular objections to progress and innovation are now as stale and withered in popular rhetoric as they always were at their philosophical core. Still, though driven by a fundamentally benevolent sense of life that ennobles achievement and self-esteem, Americans– both producers and consumers– lack a philosophy that would enable them to explicitly defend themselves from such attacks. Fortunately, there is one philosophy– and only one philosophy– that makes such a defense possible and 2012 has been an unprecedented leap forward in its exposure and popular recognition.
Without question, the single greatest factor in the popularization of Ayn Rand and Objectivism in 2012 was the vice presidential nomination of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). Ryan’s past references to Rand as an early and fundamental influence on his thinking and as the reason he entered politics gave fans of the novelist/philosopher renewed hope in the Romney campaign. That hope would be mitigated when Ryan (rumored to have been under pressure from the campaign) somewhat denounced Ayn Rand and downplayed her influence on his thinking (a claim substantiated by even a cursory look at his budget plan). Still, the occasion injected Rand’s name into the political discourse in a way that even Ryan’s denunciation could not undo. For the first time, numerous mainstream news outlets (even some overseas) began publishing articles– most neutral, some favorable, others critical— that sought to understand who Rand was and the nature of her philosophy. Despite Romney’s loss (which resulted, incidentally, from excessive moderation and not the extremist perception that they feared in Ryan’s connotation with Rand), if Ryan’s candidacy is found to have promoted an increased discussion and understanding of Objectivism and Rand’s moral defense of capitalism, a considerable victory may well have been achieved in the process.
On another positive note, Canada has surpassed their southern neighbors in standard of living. This is positive news, not because it is indicative America’s own decline, but other nations may not be heading down the same destructive path. Odd though it is for a country most known by Americans for its universal healthcare system and the frequent journeys by Canadian citizens to utilize America’s health care facilities, Canada actually possesses a freer market than the United States. Certainly its healthcare industry is so heavily regulated that America maintains a considerable advantage in that field, but otherwise the presidency of Barack Obama has pushed the United States of America to a deeper level of socialism than Canada (whose Parliament is in solid Conservative Party control). Just as with China, Canada should be congratulated and encouraged — if not for pursuing a free market, for at least not following America’s failure of a president in his descent to socialism.
Looking ahead through the coming year, several issues can reasonably be expected to take center stage. First on the agenda, with certainty, will be resolving the fiscal cliff issue. While pundits on this very eve of the new year are speaking of a “deal” between the White House and the Senate, no bill has of yet been introduced to the Senate, and that does not guarantee its passage in the House. And whatever the ultimate outcome, the perpetual budgetary crisis facing the United States will undoubtedly be a topic of great discussion throughout 2013 and likely years to come. Also, there has been a renewed debate over gun control, despite the Supreme Court’s recent trend towards upholding the rights of gun owners. With talking heads like Eric Bolling of Fox News comparing the shooting in Sandy Hook Elementary to the 9/11 terror attacks (as part of his New Year’s Eve coverage) in terms of how these events “changed America”, the issue will likely be given undue attention (as it has been already), extending far beyond sympathy for the families affected by gun violence and into the realm of pushing for knee jerk legislation like the PATRIOT Act without concern for individual rights or the implications of such legislation. Hopefully, there are enough rational commentators and statesmen to note that violent crime has been on a steady decline for some twenty years in the United States (despite gun ownership increasing) and that banning guns does not halt homicide (see: Australia and the United Kingdom) that the issue will fade in light of more important topics, but it is difficult to determine at this point. In terms of international policy, Senators like Lindsey Graham and John McCain continue to beat the drum for another altruistic military venture in the Middle East, this time in Syria. Having learned nothing from Iraq, Afghanistan, or more recently from Libya, they would rather we support an rebel of which we know nothing rather than maintain a position of reasonable and cautious neutrality. America’s role in the Middle East in general will likely be under constant review. These are but the likely conflicts. Undoubtedly, there will be others as of yet unseen, just as SOPA/PIPA were not expected to receive any attention at 2012’s outset but later developed into a very contentious issue.
Whatever the political battles of the coming year may be and the role that these cultural changes may play in determining their outcome is impossible to speculate. It is precisely because of the uncertainty of his future that a man must adhere to principle should he wish to consciously and deliberately shape the course of his life. As with a man, so with a nation. America faces a challenging year– and years— ahead as prosperity remains elusive, security threats mount, and domestic partisan turmoil and the latent philosophy of centuries past stifle a rational response to any of it. For defenders of reason, liberty, and individual rights, the course of action remains as Ayn Rand succinctly put it in the 1970s: “SPEAK!” If capitalism is to prevail in America, it will be because those who recognized its virtues were willing and able to speak in its defense– writing letters to the editor, writing to television hosts, writing to congressmen, answering requests for callers on radio shows, and, without capturing acquaintances into lengthy proselytizing, never missing an opportunity to dispute an idea with which one disagrees, if only to say “I disagree.” By changing the discussion, raising the national political debate from the level of concrete particulars to the level of moral principles, and providing a rational perspective, the potential for cultural change is immeasurable.
The greatest political virtues that the American Right can maintain at this stage are stamina, self-awareness, and ideological consistency— the ability to maintain the interest and zeal of its support base; the ability to re-evaluate and revise its platform in a rational way without spiraling into self-doubt or engendering deep divisions in its ranks that undermine its long-term political aims; the ability to establish and adhere to fundamental philosophical principles, effectively translating those principles into applied policy. History has proven, however, the inconsistency and unreliability of politicians in performing this task. To succeed (that is, for us, Americans, to succeed), they must be reinforced by a culture that does not accept compromise on basic principles. No political movement in Washington, no matter how strong it may be at its start, can prevail or long-endure in the face of a passive and ambivalent public.
In 2013, we ask that you speak, lending your support– informed, rational support– to the cause of capitalism, the defense of individual rights, and the preservation of the ideas that made America possible. With that request, we give a promise: we will work alongside you, never ceasing to do the same, in the continuing hope that next year’s review will always paint a more promising picture than the last. From The Mendenhall, thank you for reading, and Happy New Year.