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.

Yes, the 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 contents.

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 societal scapegoating.

Distortive demagoguery?

Undoubtedly this 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 not.

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 on.

Revealing rhetoric?

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 president said.

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?”

Obama is, 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:

“Does the 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 future?”

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 context.”

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 proclivities

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.

Rather, 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 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 past.

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 front

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 others.”

It is a parallel that Romney would be highly unlikely to draw.

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 Israel.

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 utmost gravity.

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 not suffice.

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 latter.

www.martinsherman.net

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