Landslide on the Horizon
When I was made aware of Paul Rahe’s Landslide on the Horizon (via Powerline) and read the first couple of paragraphs, I knew right away that I was looking at a piece with which I am in significant accord. Some of Rahe’s observations represent very reasonable predictions not only for the outcome of the upcoming election, but also for major social changes on the horizon.
Rahe begins by discussing how easily pollsters and experts can be left flat-footed by seismic political and social events.
In my opinion, none of the psephologists mentioned above has reflected on the degree to which the administrative entitlements state – envisaged by Woodrow Wilson and the Progressives, instituted by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and expanded by their successors – has entered a crisis, and none of them is sensitive to the manner in which Barack Obama, in his audacity, has unmasked that state’s tyrannical propensities and its bankruptcy. In consequence, none of these psephologists has reflected adequately on the significance of the emergence of the Tea-Party Movement, on the meaning of Scott Brown’s election and the particular context within which he was elected, on the election of Chris Christie as Governor of New Jersey and of Bob McDonnell as Governor of Virginia, and on the political earthquake that took place in November, 2010. That earthquake, which gave the Republicans a strength at the state and local level that they have not enjoyed since 1928, is a harbinger of what we will see this November.
The crisis to which he refers is inevitable, as I argued last year in Rome, America, and the Collapse of the Welfare State. One way or the other, welfare-state capitalism is coming down—not because we want it to, but because it is unsustainable. Just as full-blown socialism showed itself to be unsustainable at the end of last century, so too will the hybridized, quasi free-market, entitlement-state capitalism under which most people of Western civilization currently languish. It will either be wound down in a controlled fashion, or it will collapse rather spectacularly . . . but it will collapse.
Whether this leads inexorably to his next conclusion is something about which I am cautiously optimistic, though by no means certain:
Yes, Barack Obama is ahead in some polls. And, yes, it looks like a neck-and-neck race. But that is because the President is spending everything that he has right now in a desperate attempt to demonize Mitt Romney, and it is because Americans are not yet paying attention. Obama’s support is a mile wide and a quarter of an inch deep.
All of that is true, and in recent weeks, we have been writing feverishly in these pages about how the polls are overestimating Obama’s support and underestimating the opposition to him. The core reality is this: Romney only has to make Americans comfortable with the notion that he is an acceptable alternative, and it is probably game over for Obama’s hopes of a second term. Americans don’t want four more years like the last four. They want to vote against Obama, they just need to know that it’s safe to vote for his opponent. In last week’s debate, Romney exceeded that goal by miles. He didn’t just show himself to be acceptable, he showed himself to be better.
Thus, when it comes to the election, I am guardedly optimistic about Romney’s chances, and even about the chances that Romney will win in a landslide. Perhaps not quite as sanguine as Professor Rahe, but then again, he does have the benefit of more years of experience to buoy his sense of calm surety.
Where I do have the same feeling of surety is about the broader implications of the current political landscape. The tea party, the resurgence of libertarianism, the wild popularity of Ron Paul, the massive decrease in Democrat voter identification, and the electoral trends to which Rahe refers are all signs of something big brewing. In the recent past, I have actually been so bold as to name it: the Liberty Revolution.
Simply put, people want to be more free, and the more they learn about how statist our civilization has become over the last 100 years, the more we feel we are not as free as we can be, or should be. And without a doubt, Barack Obama has done to more accelerate that learning curve in four years than all the Milton Friedman videos and Cato lectures in the world combined.
During his term in office, many conservatives defended George W. Bush for purely partisan reason, even on policies that were decidedly not conservative. If McCain had won in 2008, we surely would not have taken the massive lurch towards greater statism that we have under Obama, but we would not have gone the other direction, either. And chances are—just because of the partisan pit-fight in which we are perpetually engaged—many conservatives would have reflexively defended McCain too, even when his policies did nothing to prevent us from moving in the wrong direction.
But Barack Obama won, and his victory has awoken the sleeping giant of liberty. First, by being a politician and man of the left, he allowed conservatives the freedom to oppose him without reservation (as opposed to the muddy waters of compassionate conservatism and a continued incremental slouch towards greater statism that would likely have been a McCain presidency). But Obama moved us so far, so fast, that antibodies awoke in the American system. In all my years, I have never heard so many people talk about natural rights, the Constitution, John Locke, and core libertarian/conservative/classical liberal principles as I have in the last four years. Yes, there have always been some, but it has become a groundswell. Liberty, libertarianism, classical liberalism, core conservatism . . . call it what you will, it has gone from being the purview of brainiacs at think tanks and libertarians in turtlenecks to a popular movement. And it is a movement that shows absolutely no sign of going away. If anything, it is going to intensify.
The 19th century—the period “from Waterloo to World War I,” as Milton Friedman designates it—was one of the freest in history: free trade, free markets, and comparatively limited governance characterized much of life in the West. By contrast, the 20th century saw the return of statism, but in new forms: totalitarian socialism, authoritarian fascism, and various flavors of mixed-market, welfare-state, quasi-capitalism. One has to wonder: Will the 21st century be more like the 20th, or will the forces of history—take THAT, Hegel!—push us towards a return to greater liberty?
With this in mind, it may not be unreasonable to say that if America survives Barack Obama, he may end up being one of the best things to happen to this country in a long, long time. The Overton Window still has a long way to go. For example, the vast majority still do not realize that they will eventually have to give up our addiction to the entitlement state. But the Window has moved further, faster than it would have absent the kind of existential threat to liberty that Barack Obama and his brand of statism pose. People across the land are talking about liberty in ways that have not been heard for a long time. Change is afoot.
Whether Barack Obama can still hold out and win this election remains to be seen (and Rahe goes on to give Mitt Romney some excellent suggestions for how to steer his campaign to victory). But whether Obama wins or loses will not erase the broader reality. Our current system is not sustainable. The free-market horse is strong, but it is not strong enough to pull the weight we are placing upon its back. Welfare-state capitalism’s failure—and its tyranny—are becoming manifest to more and more people . . . and they are not happy about it.
The “earthquake,” as Rahe calls it, may be manifested in a landslide victory for Republicans in November. But even if it is closer, or Obama ekes out a narrow victory with the help of massive media cover, it won’t change the long-term trend. The Liberty Revolution is just getting started.