Tuesday, November 6, 2012

One Eternity Later...

It sure feels like it, at least.
Well, here we are. Four years ago, this country voted for president, just as it had done for over 200 years. Four years ago, its voters elevated to the highest office in the land a young Senator from Illinois, who successfully rode a wave of popular resentment against the then-incumbent Republican Party. Four years ago, conservatism in America looked like a lost cause. Four years ought not to feel like a long time, but for me, at least, it has felt like an eternity--as has this campaign itself.

Just think of all the things that have happened in the past four years, political (the thwarted Green Revolution in Iran; the unsuccessful attempt by the late Arlen Specter to switch parties to win re-election; the Skip Gates incident; the "intervention in Libya") and apolitical (the creation of Twitter; the death, within one one week, of Farah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, and Billy Mays; the release of not just one but two "Dark Knight" films)--all this, and much, much more.

These past four years have been an interesting time for me as well. Four years ago, I was a sophomore in high school, barely comprehending the political world but refusing to let that stop me from arguing superficially with peers about then-Candidate Obama and his "socialist" policies. Four years ago, I visited Washington, D.C., for the first time (and saw The Dark Knight on opening day while there). Four years ago, I watched passively--helplessly--as I saw the country make what I felt was the wrong decision. Back then, I had only an inkling as to why voting for Obama was the wrong decision, but it's an inkling that has developed into the full-throated rationale I hold today. Allow me to explain.

In 2008, Barack Obama was perhaps the most popular person in the entire world. Had John Lennon still been around, he might have quipped that the man was "bigger than Jesus." Voting, volunteering, and campaigning for him was in vogue, as was--especially--"liking" him on Facebook. All of this, to put it simply, disturbed me at the time, though I could not explain why. The closest I got to expressing it then was that Obama had around him the sort of cult of personality that mankind had previously only seen in fascist and communist countries. But this wasn't a sufficient explanation, then or now, because I knew that--as bad as I thought he was--he would never be anything close to a genocidal dictator, and that to compare him to one would be as useless in persuasion as it would have been exaggeratingly inaccurate. But this cult of personality still vexed me nonetheless.

Having observed politics obsessively now for four years, I think I finally understand why. The cult of Obama, though it has certainly abated in the years since it began, transferred to government and politics a nigh-omnipotent, omni-present character through association. In the Age of Obama, people were to find meaning through politics, and government was to become the sole instrument of progress toward some unspecified but somehow realizeable earthly near-perfection. Obama himself became more than a politician, even more--at times--than a man; government become more than a collection of people; and politics became more than a hardfought process of give-and-take. Obama imbued all of these things with a redemptive quality typically reserved only for religion and similar enterprises.

Realizing this allowed me to put a finger on the ideology that President Obama and his adherents represent. It is not socialism, fascism, communism, or some form of totalitarianism. Nor is it even conventional liberalism. If pressed to pick a word for it, I'd choose "statism." Statism, as I define it here, is a worldview that sees the state not necessarily as all-inclusive, but rather elevates it to social primacy. In this paradigm, government precedes and preempts civil society and carves out for itself a place in nearly all signficant public and private considerations, and politics of necessity becomes an ever-present feature of both public and private spheres. Not long ago, I would have derided the views I present here as exaggeration, as no doubt some of my readers will as well. But three events in the past year have demonstrated clearly to me what President Obama represents.

The first is the hideous promulgation by the Secretary of Health Human Services Kathleen Sebelius (a Catholic from Cincinnati, no less!) of the so-called "HHS Mandate." For those unaware, this ultimate vindication of Rep. Pelosi's statement that "we have to pass [Obamacare] to know what's in it" forces virtually all Catholic business, organizations, and entities that do not cater to exclusively Catholic patrons to provide birth control to all employees--a direct violation of Catholic teaching. Despite what Vice President Biden has said, this mandate will go into effect, and it will put millions of Catholics in the awkward position of either disobeying civil law or violating their own consciences.

Whether the Obama Administration decided to issue this mandate for health reasons, political reasons, both, or other concerns, one thing was clear: it had little regard for the place of Catholic Church, the world's oldest continually existing institution, in civil society. To the Obama Administration, Church and State should not only be separated, but one ought to dominate the other. As a Catholic, seeing State persecute Church in 21st-century America not only awakened me to the importance of my faith, but also demonstrated the contempt in which Obama and his ilk hold non-government actors in civil society. Longtime readers will recall that this blog more or lesss began as the series of email exchanges and telephone conversations between its two authors in the immediate aftermath of that HHS Mandate.

The second is the Supreme Court's decision in NIFB v. Sebelius. In the days leading up the decision, I had thought the nominally conservative 5-4 majority on the Court would strike down the Affordable Care Act in at least some significant way. And I continued to think that until about ten minutes after news of the decision leaked, during which time many news outlets were erroneously reporting that the Court had done so. But the truth emerged soon enough: Chief Justice John Roberts had simultaneously rejected the liberal justices' view that the Commerce Clause justified the Act's individual mandate and the conservative justices' view that the whole Act ought to be struck down by rewriting the legislation as a tax, allowing him to rule it a legal extension of Congress' taxing power. The ruling was of such legal dubiousness that I'll maintain to my dying day that Roberts caved to crass intimidation out of the liberal press, Democrats in the Senate, and even the President himself.

But Roberts' sell-out itself was not the most depressing outcome of the day. That would have to be the ruling itself, which had the Supreme Court put its stamp on the single most radical extension of government power in the nation's history. Never before in this country has the federal government mandated the purchase of a private product simply as a consequence of citizenship, yet such an arrangement is at the center of the Affordable Care Act. If Romney does not win the election (and maybe even if he does), then the Supreme Court will have permitted a piece of legislation that fundamentally alters the relationship between citizen and state, and one that is likely to move this country's political center inexorably leftward.

The third and final is the summer I spent in Washington, D.C., my first time there since the last presidential election cycle. As an intern without a car or a home of his own to speak of while there, I still managed to distill a considerable portion of the city's essence. And what did I find? I found an evil city, full of people whose professional lives mostly consist of finding ever more creative ways to move more of the country's money, power, and influence toward themselves--at our expense. It is a city that produces no wealth of its own, yet has--in the age of big government--somehow managed to enrich the counties it neighbors to the status of the nation's wealthiest.

That wealth is undeniably a consequence of a larger federal government. And yet what have we gotten for it? The growth of the federal government has, in fact, brought about a politics simultaneously less effective and more frustrating, as local and state issues become national issues, and apolitical issues become political, as fallible politicians at the national level attempt to deal with problems about which they know essentially nothing, and as the political sphere expands to match the growth of the government's sphere.

It doesn't have to be like this. In my ideal world, presidential elections are relatively inconsquential affairs, because most problems of import are dealt with at the state and local levels, where accountability and honesty are more easily enforced.  Frustration with politics fades away as it matters less, and as the issues that remain pertinent are more easily solved with local knowledge. Most important, we are freer to enjoy the apolitical things in life; after all, the best things in life have nothing to do with politics. And that is something Obama and his supporters either do not understand or fail to appreciate.

Alas, we do not live in my ideal world, or anyone's ideal world, for that matter. We live in a world full of fallible people, most of whom seem to become politicians. The less these people have to do with our own lives, the better. If there's one thing I've learned from following politics as obsessively as I have for the past four years, it's this: it is unhealthy to follow national politics as obsessively as I have for the past four years. I shouldn't have to do it--nobody should.

And yet, we must. I cannot simply choose to reject reality and substitute my own. The political environment we inhabit has made politicians far more important than they ought to be. This is why Romney and Ryan have earned my vote. They do not invite messianic comparisons; their ticket is not all that historic (Romney's Mormonism excepted). But they also do not promise much more of themselves than competence and leadership. In an age that has seen such a stark divergence between what people expect our government to do and what it can actually do; with deficits high, unemployment stagnant, and the non-government actors in civil society threatened--perhaps now is a time that we need competence rather than misguided inspiration from a politician whose very worldview is premised on the fallacies of redemptive politics and reincarnated philosopher-kings. Perhaps now is the time for a president who will limit the scope of the federal government to the tasks which it ought to handle, while at the same time allowing non-federal, civil, private, and individual actors to flourish in the remaining spaces.

We shall find out soon.

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Thank you for reading this blog as we approached election day. Whatever happens over the next few days, we will continue to post.

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