A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that
they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From
that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the
most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy
will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a
dictatorship. – A passage of disputed origins frequently, but apparently
incorrectly, ascribed to Alexander Fraser Tytler, Lord Woodhouselee (1747-1813)
It was the most memorable time of my life. It was a touching moment because I
never thought this day would ever happen. I won’t have to worry about putting
gas in my car. I won’t have to worry about paying my mortgage. You know, if I
help him, he’s gonna help me. – Obama supporter Peggy Joseph, at an election
rally, NBC Channel 6 News, October 30, 2008
Not every person who voted for Obama
thinks this [Peggy Joseph’s] way, of course. But a sufficient number of
Americans do, leaving us wondering how we change these minds – Jim Geraghty,
National Review Online, March 26, 2012
These three excerpts encapsulate the
essence of what the upcoming US presidential elections are about. The choice
will be far more fundamental than one between two parties. It will be
between two sharply divergent visions of the future of America.
issues before the US electorate are myriad and complex. Few of them are clear
cut. On many of them, the differences in the positions of the two contenders for
the presidency are more a matter of nuance rather than principle, at times more
rhetoric than operational substance.
Discerning a dichotomous difference
But despite the complexity, there is nothing ambiguous about the decision the
voters will be called upon to make, nor about the historic impact it will have
on the destiny of the US. To a large degree, it will in all likelihood determine
America’s course for decades to come, both its domestic and foreign policy,
including relations with Israel.
Regardless of any ambiguity, even
overlap, that there might be in the positions of two contenders on specific
issues, there is little difficulty in discerning the dichotomy in the
ideological “envelopes” of their political credo, which, much like a postal
envelope, determines the destination – and the destiny – of the
In terms of their core concepts, these ideological “envelopes”
reflect profoundly opposing points of departure as to the conduct of life in
America and its relations with its allies.
The difference is between an
approach that emphasizes the promotion of enterprise and one that emphasizes the
provision of entitlements; between an attitude that incentivizes industry and
one that induces indolence; between an outlook that is clearly respectful of
success and one that appears resentful of it; between a belief that encourages
self-reliance and individual responsibility, and one that fosters dependency and
black-and-white (no pun intended) categorization will arouse howls of protest.
It will be dismissed as shallow, simplistic stereotyping, as distortive
demagoguery, as uninformed and unnuanced invective.
But such criticism
would be misplaced. For the crude characterization of the overarching parameters
of the opposing belief systems of the two contenders provides a far more apt
appraisal of what is at stake in the upcoming elections than a detailed analysis
of how they propose to deal with specific issues, however weighty, currently on
the US national agenda.
America is on the cusp of a metamorphosis of its
fundamental essence. It boils down to a choice between two irreconcilable
paradigms for the county’s future. This election is about far more than
differences of policy.
It is about how America wishes to see itself – now
and in the future – and perhaps even more important, about how it does not want
to see itself.
It is, therefore, a choice between not only what each
contender symbolizes, but, perhaps even more important, what he does
Look again at the introductory quote from the enthralled Barack
Obama supporter, Peggy Joseph, who envisioned that her support for him would
bring her a bunch of free or government-supplied goodies.
Clearly – as
conservative columnist Jim Geraghty indicates – not all Obama supporters
subscribe to the Peggy Joseph school of thought, but a significant and
apparently growing number do. By contrast, it is almost inconceivable that any
prospective Romney voter would espouse sentiments remotely similar to those
espoused by Ms. Joseph, as free fuel and accommodation are not a component of
their political expectations.
Likewise, it is equally inconceivable that
any political program presented by Mitt Romney would captivate voters of the ilk
of Ms. Joseph since they would in all likelihood not encourage the belief that
an expense-free utopia is at hand – but rather that tanks should be filled and
mortgage payments met through the fruits of hard work.
See what I mean
about the “industry vs indolence” divide I mentioned above? Not convinced? Read
It is inconceivable that anyone subscribing to
the Romney “ideological envelope” would have declared, as Obama recently did at
a rally in Virginia, that business owners owe their success to others –
primarily the government.
“Look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t
get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be
because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must
be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something –
there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.... If you’ve got a
business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen,” the
Romney’s response could not have been more to the point:
“I don’t think anyone could have said what he said who had actually started a
business or been in a business.... Do we believe in an America that is
great because of government or do we believe in an America that is great because
of free people allowed to pursue their dreams and build their future?”
of course, correct when he says that businesses profit from infrastructures
built by government: “Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American
system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and
bridge,” he said.
However, the Soviet Union also had a government that
built roads and bridges and dams, and even pioneered manned space travel, none
of which saved it from utter collapse.
In an incisive response, former
deputy assistant secretary David Cohen makes this telling point:
president really think that ‘this unbelievable American system’ is based upon
the fact that we use public funds to build roads and bridges? If I may respond
to the president by paraphrasing his own words: ‘Let me tell you something –
there are a whole bunch of countries out there that use public funds to build
roads and bridge. But none of those other countries has been as successful as
the United States of America, so it must be something else that accounts for
this unbelievable American system.’”
So as Romney asks: “Do we believe in an
America that is great because of government or do we believe in an America that
is great because of free people allowed to pursue their dreams and build their
A question of context?
Although Obama’s remarks were enthusiastically
received by his audience at the rally in Virginia, it soon emerged that they
were highly offensive to the millions of hardworking small-business owners on
whom the US depends to create jobs.
Not unsurprisingly, the Obama camp
began to claim that critics were taking his “words about small business out of
But these endeavors are, at best, unpersuasive. For as
Cohen observes, “It is irrelevant whether ‘you didn’t build that’ refers to an
entrepreneur’s business [the most logical interpretation] or to the roads and
bridges that were used by that business.”
Whichever way you slice them,
“The president’s remarks were clearly a contemptuous put-down of small-business
owners who, in the president’s view, want to take too much credit for their own
success,” Cohen said.
For anyone – other than the blatantly biased – who
watched the video recording of the address, it is difficult to dispute Cohen’s
appraisal that “he mocks small businessmen who have the gall to think they
succeeded because they were ‘so smart’ or ‘worked harder than everybody else.’”
It is not easy to escape his caustic conclusion: “The point of the president’s
remarks was not to celebrate the courage, hard work and vision that it takes to
make a business successful. Rather, the point was to admonish successful
small-business owners not to get too full of themselves, not to think that
they’re so special. And along the way, he managed to denigrate the importance of
intelligence and hard work.”
All of which underscores the distinction I
drew earlier between ideological approaches that “are respectful of success” and
those which “are resentful of it.”
Formative influences, political
In many ways, the election of Obama in 2008 was a watershed. But
this was not so much because for the first time a man of color was elected to
the US’s highest office and the world’s most powerful position.
it was a watershed because for the first time, the person elected was someone
whose political credo coalesced in an environment where many of its formative
influences (both personalities and ideologies), and the resultant allegiances
and political proclivities, differed sharply (arguably antithetically) in
substance and sentiment from those that historically made America
It would be wildly unrealistic therefore to assume that these
differences would not translate into an interpretation of US interests, and
hence a political agenda, both domestic and foreign, that differs sharply – even
antithetically – relative to how they were viewed and pursued in the
And indeed, it certainly appears they have. I have tried to
illustrate this briefly in the domestic sphere, but in the sphere of foreign
relations matters are if anything more disturbing.
The foreign policy
Deep concerns about Obama’s perspective on conducting US foreign policy –
certainly from the Israeli standpoint – arose very early in his presidency. In
his June 2009 Muslim outreach speech in Cairo he declared: “America and Islam
are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and
share common principles – principles of justice and progress, tolerance and the
dignity of all human beings.”
Clearly, this is a proclamation that is
extremely difficult to reconcile with reality. After all, life in America
as governed by the US Constitution is the opposite of life under Islam as
governed by Shari’a – particularly with regard to “tolerance and dignity of
It is a parallel that Romney would be highly unlikely to
Romney’s upcoming high-profile visit to Israel accentuates the
far-ranging differences with Obama.
True, Obama did make a
pre-presidential visit to the country in 2008, but the memories of that have
been erased by his conspicuous absence since, particularly in light of frequent
visits to numerous Arab countries in the region and his publicly sour
relationship with Binyamin Netanyahu.
True, Obama can point to instances
where his administration acted assertively to preserve and promote Israeli
interests on a number of critical issues.
However, the more circumspect –
or cynical – might suggest that this pro-Israel largesse should not be ascribed
to any favorable change in sentiment toward Israel.
Rather, it should be
seen as a result of growing concern over the consequences of a Jewish voter
backlash, fueled by what many considered a grossly biased approach toward
Even the stalwart Obama supporter pundit Peter Beinart has
complained that Obama has abandoned his originally “progressive” (read
“Palestinian-compliant”) agenda toward Israel because of pressure from
mainstream US Jewish groups.
Thus for Israel, the prospect of a White
House incumbent with an inherent affinity for Israel’s adversaries and
unshackled by considerations of reelection is one that must be viewed with the
Reinventing or uninventing America
These are dark times
for America – high unemployment rates, aging and increasingly uncompetitive
infrastructures, soaring deficits, and almost zero interest
rates. Together these ailments comprise a predicament that leaves
policy-makers almost “out of bullets.”
Honed managerial skill alone will
What America needs now is a new (or rather a renewed) vision
of itself. Over the last four years America has been subjected to policies that
appear geared more to unmaking her than remaking her, of deconstructing her
rather than reconstructing her. Obama has left the nation with faded hope
and failed change.
America is at a fateful crossroads. It can choose one
of two paths: To reinvent itself or to uninvent itself. Mitt Romney needs to
seize the moment and lead his country along the former and away from the