Forget political labels for a moment. Traditionally (meaning for the last hundred years or so), Americans have fallen into two broad categories: those who see society’s salvation as necessarily determined by government, and those who trust that the private sector, however unpredictable it may be, is what unleashes us all to innovate and prosper.
The 20th century saw both theories tested, and the results are in. The grandest attempts at government prosperity, The New Deal and The Great Society, made matters worse. Our current economic debate about deficits and debt wouldn’t exist but for the fiscal strain of Social Security and Medicare, the former born in the ‘30’s, and the latter resulting from Lyndon Johnson’s “war on poverty.”
Along came Ronald Reagan, who proclaimed that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” And so, while not shrinking government’s size as much as conservatives wanted, Reagan was a champion for turning around a decade of malaise,cutting tax rates on everyone, rolling back regulations, and instilling a sense of optimism conspicuously absent throughout the ‘70’s (remember, the economy is as psychological as it is a matter of numbers).
With Clinton, we were treated to the brilliant campaign slogan, “it’s the economy, stupid,” a reference to the fact that the Cold War was over, and we had won. It was now time to turn our attention inward, and forget about the rest of the world. The sentiment worked; Clinton was victorious twice, virtually ignoring foreign policy despite all the warning signs from Islamists that a storm was brewing (the first World Trade Center bombing in ’93, and the declaration of war against us by Osama bin Laden in ’96, just to name a couple).
By the time George W. Bush assumed office, 9/11 was already in place, and there wasn’t a whole lot he could have done to stop it. His reaction, though, was to become that which he hadn’t campaigned to be: a wartime President. He did it well, if the definitive sign of success is preventing a repeat of the worst attack on American soil, which, say those in the know, he did at least 50 times.
Fast forward to last month’s terrorist attack in Boston, where three people lost their lives, 183 people were injured, and 10 people lost limbs, two of whom were children. Just as 9/11 has, inconceivably, been called an inside job, some are saying the same about Boston. Everything these days, it seems, has a conspiracy behind it. The tragedy in Newtown, for instance, happened so the government could take away our guns. I still have trouble believing that anyone buys these things, but, ominously, a sizeable number of Americans do.
And it’s not simply Alex Jones’ fault. Our debate over the efficacy of government to magically cure what ails us is over, and those of us on the small government side have, empirically, won. The disturbing trend, though, is that some folks on the Left and the Right have decided that government has no legitimate role in our lives. To wit: mention national security to a Ron Paul acolyte, and you will be teased, chastised, or distrusted, because if you want a strong military, as our Founders did, you must be okay with Big Brother watching your every move.
Granted, part of that mindset is rooted in paranoia. The black helicopter crowd will always exist. But the more pernicious part is rooted in a genuine belief that we don’t have any natural enemies—and if we do, their hostility must be our fault.
Those on both sides of the conventional political aisle would do well to take another look at FDR and Reagan, icons within their own party. The Democrat gave us bloated government from which we are still seeking to recover; the Republican gave us the confidence to know that collectivism fails wherever it’s tried.
They both, though, fought wars that weren’t optional, and they both won. We are in the middle of a war that we choose to ignore at our own risk. The consequences of losing are, arguably, worse than those FDR or Reagan faced.
By: Will Anderson