Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

Reasons for Political Hope

by Bruce S. Thornton // FrontPage Magazine

Photo via FrontPage Magazine

Photo via FrontPage Magazine

Many Republicans are excited about the midterm elections. They see a good chance of taking over the Senate, which means they can neutralize Obama’s last few years in office. Many also are hopeful about the presidential election in 2016, though Hillary Clinton will enter that race with decided advantages. Regaining the presidency, some believe, will lead to a reprise of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, in which the country was turned from its leftward drift under Jimmy Carter.

Yet even if this scenario unfolds as the Republicans hope, it is doubtful the deeper structural problems of the country will be solved. The entitlement Leviathan, nourished under governments dominated by both parties, is unlikely to be reformed as significantly as it must in order to ward off looming fiscal catastrophe. Too many Republican politicians are enablers of government spending, voting to keep funding handouts like the $20 billion a year in agricultural subsidies. Others are plotting “comprehensive immigration reform,” aka amnesty, to ensure a steady supply of cheap labor.  Too many have seemingly accepted the disastrous cuts in military spending that put at risk our ability to defend our interests and security.

Then there are the nearly 66 million American people who reelected as president an inexperienced narcissist, serial liar, racial divider, and manifest failure. Whether they did so out of juvenile idealism, hope for racial reconciliation, or the lure of more government handouts doesn’t really matter. This lack of judgment and basic information, or sacrifice of principle to self-interest, bespeaks an electorate significant numbers of whom are unlikely to support any politician or party that seriously attempts to halt runaway entitlement spending, debt, and deficits, or to rebuild our military deterrence and reassert our will globally.

Yet despite these obstacles, the political order created in 1787, assaulted as it has been over the last 100 years, still possesses resources for putting us back on the right track. If we fail to take advantage of those resources and modern information technologies, we will have no one blame but our fellow citizens or ourselves for our country’s decline.

First and foremost, we still hold elections every 2 years, and elections have consequences. We can remain mystified that 66 million voters chose Barack Obama over Mitt Romney in 2012, but think how much worse it could have been without the 2010 midterm “shellacking,” as Obama called, that gave the House of Representatives to the Republicans. We can disagree over what the Republican House should or shouldn’t have done with their power, but they at least slowed down the slow-motion train-wreck of the Democrats’ progressive policies.

Regular fair and transparent elections mean that changing course is always possible. It may be that things will have to get much worse than they are now to wake up those 4 million Republicans who stayed home in 2012, or those 5 million voters who gave Obama the victory. And there’s a chance that the pain of correction will be much more severe, much more socially disruptive than anything we’ve seen in many years. But we still will have the legal right to change course when that moment comes.

Second, despite decades of assault on federalism, sovereign state governments still exist. They still remain what Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis in 1932 called a “laboratory” in which citizens can “try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” In recent years states have gone their own way on issues like gun control, voter identification laws, same-sex marriage, right-to-work laws, reduction of public employee unions’ political power, limits on abortion, or legalization of marijuana. Particularly important are the states’ right to set tax laws and business-friendly regulations that lure investment and people.

A comparison of California with Texas illustrates this phenomenon. As Forbes reported last year on the country’s two most populous states, “California’s state and local tax burden ranks as America’s 4th-highest compared to Texas at 45th.  California taxes a 42 percent larger share of state income than does Texas, California’s restrictive energy policies discourage oil extraction, even though it has the largest proven shale oil reserves in the nation; while its industrial electrical rates are 88 percent higher than in Texas.” As a result, in 2011 Texas’ per capita GDP surpassed California’s. No surprise, then, that between 2000 and 2012, Texas’ population growth rate doubled California’s, and that 183 Californians moved to Texas for every 100 Texans moving to California.

Increasing red-state success in growing their economies and liberating people from the intrusive Leviathan state will attract more and more people, even as the bankrupt blue-state policies of ruinous tax rates and over-regulation will drive more and more people away. We could then see a return to the Founders’ idea of federalism as “islands of intolerance in a sea of tolerance,” with people free to feet-vote for the political and social order they find congenial.

Third, American civil society––those 1.5 million associations and organizations separate from government––is still vigorous, though not as much as it was at its peak in 1970. People still belong to groups like the PTA and the Rotary Club, and still attend more than 350,000 churches. The pushback by churches and religious organizations against Obamacare’s requirement that they offer abortifacients and birth control in their health plans illustrates the impact civil society can have on public policy. More significant is the rise of the Tea Party, a truly grassroots movement that quickly organized in 2009, and by the summer its members were confronting politicians at “town-hall” events, a display of direct political accountability to the people more typical of early America or ancient Athens. There is no question that the Republicans’ victory in the 2010 midterm was made possible by Tea Party activists.

Finally, new communication technologies have broken the monopoly liberals once held over information and commentary. Before the rise of talk-radio in the 80s, political opinion was controlled by a few score network news anchors, magazine editors, and syndicated columnists. Today there are hundred of thousands of voices and opinions on cable news networks like Fox News, blogs, on-line magazines like FrontPage, websites, social networks like Facebook, and video sites like YouTube. It’s clear that the persistence of Fox News in reporting the Benghazi debacle and the IRS scandal have kept these administration failures alive in the public square.

Of course some of these sites are frequently venues for misinformation, propaganda, and transient trivia. But they also provide ordinary citizens with a democratic virtual town square in which lies are exposed, truths hidden by the establishment media revealed, and opinions aired to raucous challenge and debate. Don’t forget, the Tea Party could become a national organization nearly overnight because of a YouTube video and the Drudge Report. Still protected by the First Amendment, this virtual town square gives everyone the opportunity to exercise their right to free speech, and to mobilize resistance to the political status quo.

The resources, then, are there, and they more than any one election give us hope. We just have to make use of them. It is still in doubt whether the 2 terms of Barack Obama have represented a permanent change in the American political character, a shift much farther to the left than this country has ever experienced; or whether the unique circumstances of electing the first black president will be a one-off, and the nation will return to its traditional center-right character, and restore our fiscal sanity and our global leadership. Whatever the outcome, it will be the responsibility of the people to use resources of the Constitution to get our country back on track.

Copyright © 2014 FrontPage Magazine. All rights reserved.

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.

12 Thoughts on “Reasons for Political Hope

  1. “Regaining the presidency, some believe, will lead to a reprise of Ronald Reagan’s presidency”

    Only if you elect a Reagan!

    “Then there are the nearly 66 million American people who reelected as president an inexperienced narcissist, serial liar, racial divider, and manifest failure.”

    Hanson credits ignorance or self-interest or blind idealism for Obama’s reelection. I’m sure all of those were factors. What kind of choice did the Republicans offer? What kind of choice will they offer in 2016?

    The R’s need to nominate someone who is more electable rather than a “Not Brand X” choice. The American people harbor a deep distrust of the Religious wing of the Republican party, be that deserved or not. Any candidate blessed by that group starts a campaign with a strike against them.

    Mitt Romney was successfully cast as a child of privilege, who made money by destroying jobs. I and I suspect others, were uncomfortable with Romney the ideological chameleon who always seemed to have the right epiphanies to be “perfect” for the office he wanted. We beat the bushes for an alternative and found nobody in which we could place our trust. Romney wasn’t a good choice, just the best of bad choices.

    The Republican odds of winning rise when they nominate a *good* choice and then support them with a *good* campaign. Romney outspent Obama but his campaign was less than stellar, sustained almost exclusively on Romney’s debate showings.

    • Hanson might agree but this essay was by a contributor Bruce Thornton.

    • “What kind of choice did the Republicans offer? What kind of choice will they offer in 2016?”

      I agree.
      Not voting sends a message to the people controlling who we can vote for.
      Voting for a so-called Republican doesn’t mean much these days.
      Why do we have to continually vote for the least worst?
      We are definitely ashamed to be a member of the Republican party.
      My husband & I changed our voting choice to Independent until we get something better than a RINO.
      When the Dems help a Republican get elected against another Rep., you know something is wrong.
      When Rep. & Dems gang up on the Tea Party, you know something is very wrong.

    • Voyager on October 4, 2014 at 12:02 am said:

      We have to show that we are different from the left, and better than they are. However, we also have to be prepared for when the left cheats, or says things that are outlandishly untrue.

      I recall in the second debate, the prepares packed the audience with democrats highly sympathetic to Obama, after claiming it was a “representative” crowd. Then Crowley lied on live TV to cover Obama on Benghazi.

      We just have to be on the lookout for that sort of thing, and be prepared to respond decisively when they do it. They’ve had power to long to go quietly into the night.

  2. Keith Hayworth on October 3, 2014 at 2:02 pm said:

    JT wrote, “The American people harbor a deep distrust of the Religious wing of the Republican party, be that deserved or not. Any candidate blessed by that group starts a campaign with a strike against them.”

    Why is it that religious conservatives are constantly ostracized while religious liberals are not? The religious left have some of the most extreme views imaginable, but they never get attacked with the ferocity that the right does.

    The truth is that Republicans are fearful of offending people to the point where they have made too many concessions to the left. For instance, too many in the GOP have accepted the mistaken view on the separation of church and state. Now, instead of being a free speech zone, the public square is a site for religious apartheid where people of faith cannot freely express their spiritual convictions. Removing God denies the foundational importance to Lockean natural rights law and by extension the Declaration of Independence (which refers to God 4 times).

    Liberals hate debate. They squelch genuine disagreement. When was the last nationally televised debate of an issue (abortion? immigration? entitlements?) that wasn’t contained within the talking points of a Presidential debate? For instance, why do the rights of a few who wish to redefine marriage outweigh the rights of States to recognize the traditional idea of marriage which has lasted through 5000 years of human history? Why are the opinions of judges greater than overwhelming majorities at the polls?

    The fact is if we jettison religious contribution to the political arena, we lose our one chance at finding the Twenty-First century’s version of a political holy grail, namely the erosion of African-American support for the Democrat Party. African-Americans are far more conservative in their religious convictions than most Democrats. Nevertheless, the left tolerates them due to their unquestionable loyalty at the polls. Soon, however, there will be few living who remembers the unjust segregationist policies of the past. The new generation may be able to be convinced of the emptiness of the left’s promises to African-Americans, but this can only happen if Republicans know how to personally reach out to them.

    Republicans will only win African-Americans if their message avoids terms like, “tax credits”, “deductible”, “capital gains”, and other wonk-ish vocabulary to which the African-American community does not relate. Conservatives need to ask blacks to do what they are in the process of doing, which is to express ambivalence to the establishment of both parties. Conservatives must destroy the myth of the “rich republicans” by exposing the truth that the overwhelming majority of wealthy, coastal elites (who dominate Wall Street and the hated corporations) are culturally liberal, and, more often than not, vote Democrat. Prosperity helps all Americans, but policies aimed at artificial “fairness” tend only to spread greater inequity. Without religion, however, a major common denominator between white conservatives and blacks is forfeited.

  3. when democrats[ enabled by most of the media] are allowed to equate abortion to all of women’s health care ,tax cuts only helping the rich,the myth of man caused global warming as fact,voter id to voter suppression,unprotected and porous borders as a benefit to society,islam as a religion of peace ,cutting failed social programs that have retarded culture and trapped generations in poverty as not caring for the poor,and anything that would stop the downward trend of America as xenophobic,racist,and [fill in the blank]phobic.it will be hard to speak the truth. this is why I hope dr ben carson runs for president. being a expert on children’s brains he might be able to explain the conservative point of view in a manner that would make sense to a child.this would affect 90% of todays voters.

  4. “Americans have a deep distrust of the religious wing of the Republican party”. Americans would do well by going with every single candidate the religious right endorses. Why would the religious right not require certain litmus tests of potential candidates they would endorse just like the progressive elites on the left. They got Obama elected and will continue to force the trajectory of growing spending and the size of the government until things fall apart. I wish electing republicans was all it took to get things back on track but all you have to see is Boehner to know that’s not going to be enough. Usually what goes with the pro life-marriage only between a man and woman-prayer in the classroom social conservative crowd is also a fiscal conservative-small government-keep things local point of view which is okay with me. If Americans fear the religious right more than OBAMA-PELOSI-REID-KERRY-BIDEN-GORE-GUTIERREZ-SHARPTON-GOOGLE-FACEBOOK then Americans are fools and can expect to reap the consequences of their stupidity.

  5. Roland Sharer on October 4, 2014 at 2:37 pm said:

    Hungered so thousands of patriotic men and women made the ultimate sacrifice since 1776 for our freedom and the right to vote. All of us who are registered voters have to OBLIGATION to vote to honor the memories of the FALLEN. Not to do so is unpatriotic in my mind. Even though there may not be the ideal candidate on the ballot for every voter, they and you must vote. The 4,000,000 Republications who chose not to vote ARE unpatriotic! Let us not do that again in 2014 and 2016,!!! We must take the Senate in November and the Presidency in 2016 no matter who the republican candidate is!

    NOTE–THERE ARE 75 million registered Democrats; 45 million Independents; and ONLY 55 million
    Republicans!!! IF ALL REPUBLICANS DO NOT VOTE, WE WILL NOT WIN.

  6. Here’s the deal Mr Thornton. You and VDH are not getting through to anyone that would make a real effort to shrink government’s growth. You appeal to the doomsday preppers and any optimism you may offer is going down to defeat by the tidal wave of the entitlement mentality both real in the sense of food stamp acceptance by the general population and the acceptance of the cheap labor point of view by big business. GE is thriving off of crony capitalism. Google and Facebook have no concept of what Jack Welch’s old school point of view was in regards to offering up value and real improvement in easing lifes chores was all about. They’re not stupid, just elitist. Who the hell needs a self driving car right now except someone who commutes in the Bay area. How about creating an efficient cheap way to fix pot holes on the 101, 395, 5 and 405 freeways. Where’s Googles engineers for that practical and worthwhile endeavor? Progress has truly exceeded necessity and we cannot put the genie back in the bottle. What makes the mainstream public believe that all those crazy religious right wingers won’t inherit the earth? Would I rather have Eric Schmidt leading the way for my children or Donald Trump. Not much of a choice I admit but absolutely crystal clear to me. Lincoln is dead and so is American Exceptionalism.

  7. John Lewis on October 5, 2014 at 9:49 pm said:

    Speaking as a Canadian, I simply do not believe that a mean little man of dubious sanity, who has surrounded himself with people worse than he is, can end so great a nation, which enjoys such a large number of creative and energetic citizens.

    I do not think you are going to have an easy time of it. because the creature is in some ways a symptom rather than a cure. The solution may look rather odd by the standards of American history; but I have the utmost confidence that decency and common sense will prevail and that the creative energies of your great nation will once again be set free.

  8. John Lewis on October 5, 2014 at 9:50 pm said:

    Make that “source” rather than “cure”, please.

  9. Jeff Stanley on October 13, 2014 at 11:45 am said:

    @ Roland Sharer re: “Hungered so thousands of patriotic men and women made the ultimate sacrifice since 1776 for our freedom and the right to vote. All of us who are registered voters have to OBLIGATION to vote to honor the memories of the FALLEN.”

    Straight baloney.

    The Declaration of Independence declares that governments derive their just powers by the consent of the governed. Which is precisely why I absolutely refuse to consent to, by my vote, a system that can do no better than offer me the choice of lesser evils. Sorry, but I consider the franchise far too valuable to allow con men politicos like Mitt Romney to leverage an endorsement by it out of me. No can do, bucko.

    Telling an American that he or she has an OBLIGATION to vote actually dishonors the LIBERTY our fallen heroes fought to protect. LIBERTY of a kind which includes the right NOT TO VOTE.

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