New Yorker writer (and blogger) George Packer’s series of “end of an era” posts — he begins here, and follows up in three subsequent posts (as of now) — puts a clear and explicit name to the twin convulsion the United States is going through.
Over the past month we have seen the collapse of an entire economic philosophy that has driven our nation for decades. In parallel to this ideological failure, we are experiencing the political failure of the Republican right that has dominated American politics since 1980. These are cataclysmic changes, like nothing we’ve seen in at least 30 years.
Thursday Alan Greenspan sat before Congress and said he had “found a flaw” in his worldview. Indeed! Or as they say in the ‘sphere thes days, EPIC FAIL. It was as if he took a look at the whole foundational edifice of the global economic system he engineered and, morphing into Gilda Radner’s Emily Litella, let out a whimpering “Never mind.” Meanwhile, the GOP isn’t waiting for Election Day to begin the customary circular-firing-squad behavior of the losing party, a ritual that most of us under a certain age have only seen executed on the Democratic side of the aisle.
Yet there are holdouts in the punditocracy who don’t seem to have taken full measure of just how much things have changed in the past month. I hate to pick on Peggy Noonan again — hey, some people think she deserves a Pulitzer! But in her column today, headlined “43 percent isn’t nothing,” she engages in precisely the kind of reality-denial that her fans insist she is immune to.
The “43 percent” are the people who are still voting Republican this year. (Time was, not long ago, that the GOP was touted as having built a “permanent majority,” so 43 percent might seem like a real comedown. Then again, President Bush didn’t actually win a majority in 2000, either, did he?) Noonan, ignoring her own candid conclusion six weeks ago that “It’s over,” wants to look at ways McCain might still pull out a victory.
How might McCain still win an upset? Noonan asks, “What if…the financial crisis seems to fade?” (Noonan implies that this is part of an argument in a Boston Phoenix column, but if you read the source, there’s nothing in it about financial crises fading.)
It boggles the mind that any journalist could get such words past a sentient editor. Imagine someone, four weeks after 9/11, asking, “What if the terrorism crisis seems to fade?” Memo to Ms. Noonan: even if the Dow skyrockets next week, the financial crisis isn’t fading any time before November 4. We will be lucky if it has faded before November, 2012. It is a world-historical event. It will be reshaping our economic lives for many years to come, even in the best of scenarios.
Later in her piece, Noonan contemplates the unthinkable — what if Obama does win? — and offers the standard-issue columnist boilerplate advice: he’d better govern from the center! Or else! Then she lets loose this doozy:
if he goes left — if it comes to seem as if the attractive, dark-haired man has torn open his shirt to reveal a huge S, not for Superman but for Socialist, if he jumps toward reforms such as a speech-limiting new Fairness Doctrine, that won’t yield success.
I do believe that we need, not perhaps a new Fairness Doctrine, but a special new Rhetorical Honesty Act — or, I guess, a constitutional amendment, to get the rule past the First Amendment — banning any Republican from trying to spook a Democrat with the “Socialist” label ever again. Because we already have a “socialist” president. His name is George W. Bush, and he is, as I write this, nationalizing the banks and presiding over the greatest expansion of government meddling in private industry that the U.S. has ever seen.
“Stick to the center” is a natural fall-back for the losing party in a presidential election. Winners are free to embrace it or reject it as they choose. I recall that the conservative punditry never offered this advice to George W. Bush in 2000. Once he took office after the most hotly disputed election resolution in American history, he took an unearned “mandate” to radically reshape much of American government and foreign policy.
But if, as seems quite possible, Obama wins a sweep and the Democrats wind up with a strong majority in both houses of Congress, you will hear a loud chorus from the right and center-right press: President Obama, they’ll say, don’t “go left” — you have no mandate. In fact, in that scenario he will indeed have a mandate, and I imagine he will use it. But I also think he will govern toward the center — not because of what Noonan or anyone else says, but because it seems to be his nature.
UPDATE: More “S”: This hysterical piece from Mark Levin at NRO’s The Corner paints Obama as a “hardened ideologue” and “charismatic demagogue” who will wreck America with “the soft authoritarianism of socialism.”
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