Others’ Thoughts on the Election Results
November 11, 2012
Many agree with what Mark Steyn and others have said before: The culture is deeper than politics, and our politics are a result of our culture much more than the other way around. Unfortunately, our culture has been degenerating in this direction for some time.
At the same time, conservatives ought to recognize that our deeper problems . . . are cultural, not political, and are therefore not susceptible of a political solution.
Edmund Burke questioned whether the state can even distribute alms without doing more harm than good. . . .
Because the goods the paternal statist seeks are cultural, not political, they cannot be obtained by political means. The culture of the old market-place centers, the shells of which bear witness even now to the historic core of what C.S. Lewis called the “Old Western” civilization, was not, except incidentally, the work of politics or the state. . . . It was above all the work of particular people in particular places, acting on their own intimate knowledge of local needs, conditions, and ways of doing things.
What has obviously changed, in other words, is American political culture: and it is hard to make a case that that change has been for the better. . . . [A] friend . . . sent me an e-mail with a salient [de] Tocqueville quote:
In the United States, the majority rules in the name of the people. This majority is chiefly composed of peaceful citizens who by taste or interest sincerely desire the good of the country. . . . If republican principles are to perish in America, they will succumb only after a long social travail, frequently interrupted, often resumed; they will seem to be reborn several times, and they will disappear without return only when an entirely new people has taken the place of the one that exists in our day.
So let’s . . . ponder the serious question raised by [de] Tocqueville, and put in more contemporary terms by another of my day-after-the-election e-mail correspondents, a former senior White House official:
Is it time 1) to conclude that what began in 1992 has provided 26 years of confirmatory evidence that the American experiment in ordered liberty has given way, decisively and irrevocably, to a crass and stupid commercial (and sexualized) culture, under a technical-administrative state, guided by the view that man is the measure of all things, and 2) to consider a refocusing of political efforts to the local level, which has its own problems of corruption, stupidity, and loss of tradition and virtue, but in some cases may permit of a politics in some measure noble and worthy?
In Michigan in September I had a talk with a retired auto worker who did not care that the bailout cost $25 billion, was not sustainable, shorted the legal first-in-line creditors, shorted politically incorrect managerial pensioners, or ensured the Volt debacle. He simply said to me, “Obama saved my son’s job and I don’t care about much else.”
The central problem, then, is not that Obama will be president for the next few years, but that the American people — knowing him — chose to reelect him.
In short, the American people are starting to look like Europeans, and as a result they want a European form of government.
. . . we live in two Americas.
. . .
Americans have faced this before. This has been a culturally diverse land from its colonial beginnings. The mid-20th-century cultural cohesiveness was the exception, not the rule.
We used to get along by leaving each other alone.
But now the one side increasingly uses the coercive power of the state to remake the other side in its own image.
So we must continue trying to change the culture and persuade people; it may or may not already be too late to save America.
Well, we can try to persuade. Keep making our case. Alternatively, the pain of economic decline might wake people up. Or not. Gerald Ford liked to say, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.” I think the American people — the new American people — are saying, “Yeah, so?”
Our cultural efforts have to be every bit as wide-ranging and persistent as those of the Left. Majority ideologies are built over generations, not overnight, and it means breaking the public-school monopoly, influencing public schools even while we work to diminish their influence, sending our best and brightest young writers and actors into the lion’s den of Hollywood, working to reform higher education and breaking the ideological hammerlock of the hard Left on faculties, and working hard — very hard — to tell the true story of conservative compassion for the “least of these,” a story featuring the efficiency and creativity of private philanthropy combined with Christ-centered love and concern for the individual.
Some (e.g., Charles Krauthammer) have responded to the loss by arguing that Republicans must embrace amnesty for illegal immigrants and similar policies, but others argue that this prescription rests on a misreading of the politics.
A lot of the telly chatter is about how Republicans don’t get the shifting demographics: America is becoming more of a “brown country,” as Kirsten Powers put it on Fox. But New Hampshire is overwhelmingly white — and the GOP still blew it. The fact is a lot of pasty, Caucasian, non-immigrant Americans have also “shifted,” and are very comfortable with Big Government, entitlements, micro-regulation, Obamacare and all the rest — and not much concerned with how or if it’s paid for.
Above all, the notion that Republicans must now adjust their positions to make an essentially race-based appeal to Hispanics and craven interest-group appeals elsewhere strikes me as very wrong-headed—both as a reading of the election and as advice to the losing party.
If Republicans want to change their stance on immigration, they should do so on the merits, not out of a belief that only immigration policy stands between them and a Republican Hispanic majority. It is not immigration policy that creates the strong bond between Hispanics and the Democratic party, but the core Democratic principles of a more generous safety net, strong government intervention in the economy, and progressive taxation. . . .
The idea of the “social issues” Hispanic voter is also a mirage. A majority of Hispanics now support gay marriage, a Pew Research Center poll from last month found. The Hispanic out-of-wedlock birth rate is 53 percent, about twice that of whites.
But even if the fairy-tale number of 44 percent of the Hispanic vote were possible, it still wouldn’t make sense to keep increasing the Democratic share of the electorate through ongoing mass immigration.
But, as Steyn has remarked before, there is no other, better place to go; we have to stay in America and keep fighting for liberty here, because all the alternatives are even worse. Even if America is doomed at this point (which we can’t know), it still makes a difference that we continue fighting, slow the decline, and mitigate the damage, to whatever extent possible, for the sake of our own well being and that of our children.
Meanwhile Stanley Kurtz offers perhaps the most optimistic assessment I’ve seen so far:
At this point, only a sweeping new grassroots rebellion on the model of the Tea Party could change things. In the wake of a presidential election so discouraging for conservatives, a massive new tea-party wave may not appear to be in the cards. Yet a resurgent second-term challenge to Obama from populist conservatives is far more likely than it seems.
That’s because the president’s first term hasn’t really happened yet, at least not in the conventional sense. Ordinarily, a president enacts various policies in his first term, the public test-drives the changes, and the president’s reelection campaign is a referendum on those new policies. The difference in Obama’s case is that in order to secure reelection, he has backloaded nearly all of his most transformative and controversial changes into a second term. Obama’s next term will actually put into effect health-care reform, Dodd-Frank, and a host of other highly controversial policies that are already surging through the pipeline yet still barely known to the public.
Obama’s transformative changes to date have been far more theory than practice. While reelection may bring sullen public acceptance when Obama’s most controversial policies actually take effect, the reverse is equally possible.
Importantly, Michael Cannon argues that “Obamacare Is Still Vulnerable”.
Odds and ends: Yuval Levin’s lengthy Corner post linked above also offers an interesting examination of the nature of political parties, and the different natures of the current Democratic and Republican parties. Tantalizingly, it also suggests that, for all the culture has been shifting against conservatism, Romney still could have won if a few million Republican voters had not stayed home—Levin says, if Obama had not managed to paint Romney as “an evil and uncaring plutocrat” (Andrew McCarthy argues, if Washington Republicans weren’t acting like big-government Democrats-light):
This is both bad news and good news: It means Republicans are indeed vulnerable to attacks that paint them as plutocrats, but it also means that the demographics of the electorate have not turned decisively against them. The voters that could carry Republicans to victory are there, but far too many of them did not vote this time.
Update (November 12th, 2012): The National Review editors have now weighed in as well, against amnesty:
We know from historical experience that immigration amnesties serve only to encourage yet more illegal immigration, and the suffering and disorder that go along with it. Illegal immigrants constitute a permanent underclass, the growth of which is in the long-term interest of neither the citizens of the United States nor of those immigrants who aspire to citizenship. . . .
. . . Non-enforcement simply is not a viable permanent state of affairs. Law enforcement would be as necessary after an amnesty as it is today.
Republicans who believe that amnesty would buy them an electoral advantage with Hispanics are deluding themselves.