“History never looks like history when you are living through it.”
– John W. Gardner
Though a formidable part of this publication’s founding plan is its effort to offer a broad and cumulative perspective of each year’s events, you’ll have to forgive us if on this, our first New Years’, with such late notice and such great academic responsibilities on the authors, we tender only a pared down consideration of what has come to pass in this country in 2010. As the above quote from John Gardner reminds us, it is often daunting for individual men, trying their best to manage their own lives in difficult times, to conceive of those times in the context of history and to imagine what generations will say of the years we lived together. Yet, when that task is fulfilled and a man becomes fully aware of the present and his own role in it, he is empowered with the ability to act consciously, to act deliberately, and to mould the world in which he lives to suit his values. This is the unrivalled value of the study of history: man’s awareness of his own condition derived from analysis of the conditions of those who came before. When this analysis is fully and properly conducted, man is left to the discovery that history is not the result of a series of random, haphazard occurrences, unknowable before they arrive and infinitely controvertible afterward. Rather, it is a science replete with the laws of cause and effect. As each of the physical sciences examines not only occurrences, but their relations and catalysts, so the science of history must not isolate itself to the realm of concretes, but must hold to the utmost significance the motive force of human progress: ideas. Appropriately, the United States of America, a nation whose meteoric rise to prominence has no precedent in history, was explicitly constituted as a nation of ideas and not of men. If it is to succeed, it must remain that way. What, then, has been the state of American events— and ideas— in 2010 and what does that forecast for 2011?
To recall the past twelve months as “tumultuous” would seem an understatement to any who have lived in them. America has witnessed more than half a dozen incidences, any one of which would have been landmark political and economic events in a less turbulent era. We have seen enacted in this country what The Economist (a publication rarely shy about strong regulatory measures) has called, “the most sweeping changes to America’s financial regulatory system since the 1930s.” It has become difficult to keep track of the ever-growing ranks of regulatory tsars appointed to both finance and industry, with insufficient oversight directed to the institutions most responsible for the financial crisis, GSE’s Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which, despite receivership status, have continued to function in their previous capacity with relatively little impediment.
The passage of healthcare reform legislation was unquestionably the most divisive issue of the year, pulling aside the veil of moderation to reveal the deep entrenchment of party lines in cases of critical issues. The most sweeping social reform in four decades, the legislation issued such controversial policies as mandatory medical insurance for individuals (under threat of penalty) and requiring insurers to issue policies to new customers with pre-existing illnesses. The Department of Health and Human Services has already concluded that the bill’s enforcement will cost taxpayer’s much more than the initially projected budget of $630 billion. The matter remains unresolved as the new Republican majority vows to undermine the measures’ funding before voting again to repeal it in the coming session.
When an oil spill frightened the already economically fragile nation, it also revealed the nature of its administration as more eager to take political advantage of the circumstance— initiating efforts in courts to shut down the offshore drilling industry to appease environmentalist supporters— than to effectively manage the problem. A non-committal response saw ships idling in ports along the East Coast, their owners eagerly awaiting permission to assist while commercial fishing in the gulf ground to a halt. Fortunately, by dint of individual initiatives and the efforts of British Petroleum, the leak was remedied and the spill cleaned to the point that, despite cries that it would irreparably taint waters there for a decade, the announcement was made by mid-August that seafood from the region was safe to consume. Inexplicably, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and his subordinates continued attempts to push the moratorium in federal appeals court through the end of the year with little practical justification.
Whistleblower J. Christian Adams from the Justice Department revealed to the public that charges were dropped against two members of the New Black Panther party who had been caught on video brandishing weapons at a polling place in the 2008 presidential elections. He explained that orders had been passed down within the department mandating that voter intimidation charges not be pursued in cases involving black defendants and white plaintiffs until further notice. Such racially-guided policies, Adams decried, were prevalent in his time in the civil rights division of the DOJ. Attorney General Eric Holder and Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez called the claims unsubstantiated.
America officially withdrew its seven-year military presence in Iraq. A candid retrospective assessment reveals American military involvement throughout its time there to have been hindered by non-committal foreign policy from Washington throughout both the Bush and Obama administrations. Extensive efforts to instate a democratic system of governance there have resulted by war’s end in a factious government in which formerly rogue organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah have been legitimized as formal political parties, complete with the U.S. government’s public acceptance of whomever comes to power as “the people’s choice”. By the end of our time there, policy had dictated providing soldiers with extensive cash supplies to be distributed to locals as compensation for damages, toward the construction of schools, and for general support-building in volatile urban locales. Meanwhile, as troops remain in Afghanistan until the end of 2011, polls show that a mere 36% of Afghanis maintain confidence in the U.S. and U.N. to achieve stability there (down 12% from last year) and a resounding 73% of Afghanis polled supported the idea of a negotiated settlement with the Taliban.
Back at home, similarly dismal ratings emerged for congress. An unusual political force came to prominence as Tea Parties energized the nation’s anti-statist sentiments, staging rallies and endorsing candidates who ran on principles of limited government and fewer taxes. The Tea Parties leveraged Americans’ feelings that traditional party lines were no longer reliable indicators of basic principles and, rather than running as third party long-shots, enacted a unique system of political branding where candidates of other parties (namely Republican) would be individually certified as Tea-Party-approved, often reversing the courses of primaries and standing in strong opposition to incumbent semi-statist Republicans such as Lisa Murkowski (R-AK.) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME.). Their efforts, along with little economic recovery after four years of a Democratically-led congress and two years of the most interventionist administration since the Great Depression, secured Republican control of the House and an increased presence in the Senate. In the interim lame-duck period, they have remained vocal critics of both liberals and avowed conservatives, against whom no government official, elected or otherwise, is immune.
A year of such chaos would have been incomplete, it seems, were it to end without a worthy controversy. The challenge came in the form of further political crisis over the nation’s budget legislation for 2011. Liberals set forth efforts to finance extensive earmarks by discontinuing the “Bush tax cuts”, attempting to garner popular support for the measure by instigating class-warfare rhetoric and claiming, to much controversy, that the repealed cuts would only affect the “rich” and leave lower and middle class households much the same. The already suspect left wing, whose returning representatives had often won by narrow margins in November, were unable to turn the tide in their favor and, under formidable threat of government shut-downs, capitulated to pass a short term solution, leaving the full job for the incoming electorate in January. Congress recessed at year’s end with a 13% approval rating.
The national mood is one of undirected discontent. American citizens’ displeasure with the current state of affairs is rapacious and their efforts have achieved, thus far, considerable success. The tide seems to have, in many ways, turned in the favor of small-government conservatism in recent months with the results of mid-term elections, the restructuring of President Obama’s cabinet, and the turbulence felt in liberal camps struggling to maintain their hold on American public opinion. The transition, however, by this publication’s perceptions, is dangerously incomplete. Materially, in many ways, the last two months have shown a glimmer of hope for conservative, libertarian, and anti-statist groups, but that success is destined to be short-lived if it is not supported by an intellectual, ethical, philosophic defense of individual rights and liberties. Traditional conservatism has long been without a comprehensive defense for its advocacy of smaller government, less taxes, and its on-again-off-again defense of capitalism. As a result, it has atavistically acted as the most willful destroyer of the very things it purports to uphold. Libertarianism has offered a consistently inadequate alternative by virtue of its refusal to define its own fundamentals, resulting in a constituency so broad and indeterminate that the term is left practically devoid of meaning (as evinced by the droves of former libertarians who have since sub-categorized themselves into more specific sets of beliefs, ranging from Anarcho-Capitalists to Constitutionalists to Libertarian Socialists). The product of these inadequacies has been the perception of the American Right as inconsistent “me too”-ers and of the proponents of classical liberalism as star-struck worshippers of a floating abstraction. The prescription for such an ailment, as readers of this publication are apt to consistently find in these pages, is a consistent adherence to an explicitly defined moral and political philosophy.
That is, unfortunately, not what has been found in the protests of Tea Party advocates during this past election season. We observe this not strictly as a criticism— all intellectual movements take time. Eighteen years passed between the Boston Tea Party from which these groups derive their name and the ratification of the Bill of Rights. Nonetheless, in hopes of our justice being swifter than that of our predecessors, we urge the fact that the Tea Parties’ objections have thus far been limited to concretes: taxes, social welfare programs, Obamacare, etc. What will be required going forward is an answer to their opponents’ question, “Well then what do you want?” While it is true that, as our current president once lamented in his time as senator, the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties, it does presuppose a great deal of positive assertions— most notably the Enlightenment’s concept of man as a heroic being to whom anything is possible if left alone to flourish. Going forward, the advocates of liberty must uphold these assertions by advocating not simply the undoing of their opponents’ policies, but the realization of a comprehensive vision for America.
The battleground for the future of America is not strictly political, but intellectual. Politics in America is, as it has been in every nation throughout history, the product and not the cause of the dominant intellectual trends throughout the culture. An American man has lived eighteen years before he is permitted to vote, thirteen of those spent in our education system. While the troubles with that institution are extensive, it is not my intention to delve into them here. Suffice it to say that it is the rare exception among its products who emerges with a fully informed and rational worldview. The longstanding tradition of American pragmatism in classrooms has dulled the conceptual abilities of students— and the men they become— such that the three-year-old who was once told to act first and think later someday becomes the eighteen-year-old who complacently accepts his college professors’ creative, nonobjective recounting of history. He then proceeds to become the thirty-year-old who, primed by decades of non-conceptual training, responds fervently to the broad, meaningless slogans and political bromides that have invariably delivered nonintellectual leadership into positions of power throughout history. Many will doubt this analysis, decrying it as a conspiratorial oversimplification. In truth, there needn’t be a grand conspiracy of “gunpowder, treason, and plot.” Elaborate thought has never been a necessary ingredient to destruction. It has been and forever will be necessary to create a free and prosperous nation which honors the principles of individual rights and freedoms.
Americans who take it upon themselves to learn the full extent of the philosophy at the root of our nation’s founding will be surprised to learn that its ultimate realization is not to be found in a mere reversion to the politico-economic conditions present in America before this most recent recession. This is the remedy proposed by many moderates and reverent defenders of the status quo, striving to hold their ground in the face of an onslaught of “extremists” suffering the brunt of their “enlightened” middle road. To such men as these, who long to return to that calm before the storm during the Clinton years, we will convey the reminder that crises such as these are not the product of a year or two’s measure of bad business practices, but the end result of a long tradition of interventionism leading all the way back to the Carter administration or, in broader terms, to 1913 and the inception of the Federal Reserve. Each and every encroachment of government into the lives of individuals has been predicated upon the fallacy of collective rights and the unquestioning acceptance of government sitting in the role of arbiter between the individual and the populace. If we are to stave off the advance of that perilous irrationality, we must begin by striking where it is weakest: the realm of morality.
As we head into 2011, the second half of a presidential administration, the commencement of a new congress, the end of a profitable trading year and the promise of more growth to come, we must go forward in all things with a new diligence, a new willingness to challenge “conventional wisdom” that preaches moderation over ideals, and the daring to always remember the belief in our government as an institution founded upon a living document never meant to wither in the face of “progressive” implementation, but to wither those who seek to tarnish her virtues with moralities of sacrifice, collectivist politics, and the belief in man as anything less than a strong and capable individual deserving of the fruits of his labor. This thinking must not be limited strictly to the protesting of taxes, but must go further to protest the moral assumptions which make the creation of social welfare programs such as our recent healthcare overhaul possible. Those who seek to change this country must broaden their scope to challenge the role which government has assumed in each of our lives, not merely standing in the way of its latest intrusions but voicing our discontent on encroachments long existent and long believed inextricable.
Here at The Mendenhall, we hope that in 2011 you will choose us as your source for full and comprehensive analyses of issues that affect our nation and for hard-hitting editorials that challenge the pervading ideology so that together, by whatever measure we may achieve, we might change our futures by changing minds. In closing, I leave you with the words of Ayn Rand, who said, “People create their own questions because they are afraid to look straight. All you have to do is look straight and see the road, and when you see it, don’t sit looking at it – walk.”