by Victor Davis Hanson
1. Tempered not melted. The question is not whether America is in decline, but whether it is in decline at a more rapid pace than true of Europe, Russia, or Asia. And one bright spot in the otherwise dark economic news will be the resilience of the United States. Forget trillions of this, and billions of that, or our sinking GDP and GNP, or deflation and unemployment rates, or all the other data — at least for a moment. Instead consider the gargantuan mess that Europe is in with its even wilder real estate market, greater deficits, and far larger banking losses from bad loans abroad. Russia is a mess; with less than $50-a-barrel oil, it will be worse than a mess. Export-driven China may have trillions of U.S. dollars in reserves, but it has tens of trillions in infrastructure investments to make before it can match U.S. roads, dams, and airports, much less approximate our standard of living.
Americans are far more meritocratic than others, success far less predicated on birth, accent, parentage, or class. We are more optimistic, and do best when pressed (Consider a broke America in 1939, and a rich America in 1946 that defeated the Axis and sent billions to its allies in the U.K. and Russia.). Our demography is far more encouraging than Europe’s. We react to crises far more energetically; compare U.S. troops in Afghanistan to their NATO counterparts; or ask who adapted more successfully in Iraq — the U.S. Marines far from home, or al-Qaeda terrorists in their own backyard? Once the dust settles on this crisis, I wager the United States will be relatively stronger after than before the meltdown.
One can do almost anything with a $13 trillion economy, a two-percent-plus growing population, and a stable political system; much harder with a shrinking work force that breaks apart along class lines and resentments. Even while pundits write weekly books about the ‘end’ of the United States, or at least ‘American decline,’ the United States will emerge relatively stronger for the ordeal.
2. Who’s illiberal? So far the likes of Hugo Chavez, al Qaeda’s Dr. Zawahiri, the mullahs in Iran, and Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi have all in varying degrees commented, in racialist fashion, on the African ancestry of President-elect Obama. More of such insensitive slurs by foreigners about our President’s skin color, the legacy of slavery (as in “house slave”), etc. will follow. And Americans will take note of the vast divergence between an American electorate easily and without bias voting for an African-American as their Commander-in-Chief, and a supposedly multicultural world leadership abroad snickering about it.
In the past Michelle Obama has called her country “mean” and until recently not worthy of her own pride. But now as we watch the reaction abroad to Obama the next four years (once the mass hysteria of crowds dies down), I think a number of those on the Left will confess that the “other” — whether in Europe, the Middle East, South America, or Asia — will prove a lot less liberal about our President than the much-caricatured American public.
This will be a positive development and remind critics here at home just how different their country is from the alternative. It really is an exceptional place, and I doubt very seriously that China will soon have a German-Chinese Prime Minister, or Germany an African-German Chancellor, or Japan a Congolese-Japanese Prime Minister, and so on. The point is not, again, that mere racial diversity brings with it automatically wisdom, only that our critics abroad, who fault America’s often tense experiences with a vibrant multiracialism, are themselves decades behind the object of their vituperation.
3. Turning on a dime. There is such a thing as divine Nemesis, even though the god seems to sleep for long periods. The media violated all the classical canons of fairness and objectivity in this presidential campaign. Now they are in a dilemma, since most of their long-voiced objections about Bush won’t be operative any more — on matters of taxes, Guantánamo, the bail-outs, FISA, the Patriot Act, Iraq, guns, abortion, capital punishment — inasmuch as Obama suddenly won’t be hoping and changing much of anything, but often leaving things on these issues as they are, while turning management over to the tentacles of the Clinton octopus.
The media, in Animal Farm fashion, will have to do a ‘that was then, this is now’ turnabout, as they dream of reasons why Gitmo is not that bad, or why keeping the Bush tax cuts for a bit will stimulate the economy, or why wiretapping on suspected terrorists, on reflection, isn’t really that subversive. And as they reinvent the once evil administration policies, and transform the formerly Hillary hacks into inspired Obama ideas and experienced and professional Obama appointments, few will believe them. Done, over with — the media has lost credibility and will have to start over from square one. And all that was a much needed development.
P.S.: After the India nightmare, note the Obama reaction to dismantling the FISA accords, Patriot Act, Guantánamo, and withdrawing from Iraq, as the campaign rhetoric of Bush shredding the Constitution morphs into something like ‘the public will turn on a dime and blame us for criminal laxity if anything like 9/11 happens on our watch.’
©2008 Victor Davis Hanson