There is a growing realization in political quarters that there’s more to the resiliency of the Obama regime and his re-election chances than voters’ shifting priorities or occasional upticks in the nation’s economy. But the resiliency of the Obama constituency should not be a mystery: It’s the culture, stupid.
Some very large segments of the population are immune from any evidence or real-world news of Obama’s failures. The challenge for Republican strategists and Romney advisers is that this problem is far deeper than traditional Democratic constituencies such as organized labor and ethnic minorities. The problem for Republican strategists is that they have great difficulty thinking outside the box of conventional economic issues. They fear “social issues” – which are, of course, cultural issues – and have no contingency plan for dealing with them.
The bad news for Romney is that at least 40 percent of the electorate shares much of Obama’s worldview; their support for Obama does not depend on the direction of the monthly unemployment numbers. That’s not a weak base to build on, and the Republican task of finding 51 percent who will resist the free-lunch demagoguery of the left grows more difficult with each election cycle.
The Obama worldview is radically different from any traditional policy framework rooted in limited government and the rule of law. The Obama worldview provides an instant translation for any event that might be seen by ordinary citizens as a policy failure. To Obama and the radical left, when an Obama policy gets disappointing results, it’s because American institutions have failed. To them, that means they must redouble their efforts, not change course.
To Obama’s legion of admirers and clients, America’s problems are rooted in our nation’s sins and our “large moral deficit.” Our problems run so deep, they could not possibly be overcome in four short years. So, don’t blame Obama if we haven’t yet turned the corner to prosperity and universal peace and happiness. “Keep the faith, baby.”
The best example of the political intersection of Obama’s radical worldview and conventional economic policy is in his tax proposals. Obama believes that the fundamental question about our tax system is not how we generate enough revenue to finance the legitimate functions of government. That is the way Republicans like to frame the issue. But to Obama, that misses the mark.
To Obama and his cultural warriors, the paramount question about tax policy is “fairness.” Rich people have more money to spend than poor people, and that is not fair. Government must redress that “inequality” through progressive taxation.
What Republicans – and libertarians generally – do not understand is that this debate over “fairness” is not a debate about economic principles or markets. It is an argument over moral principles. Why is it more “fair” to take 90 percent of one’s man’s honest earnings and only 10 percent of another’s? The answer to that question depends on your moral philosophy, not your vocation or your ancestry.
This war is not new. The culture of individualism and the culture of collectivism have been at war for over a century. That war has been waged since at least 1848, the year Karl Marx published the Communist Manifesto, and it has been intensifying since the Progressive Era. The political slogans of the progressives have always been variations of the “fairness” theme, and Obama is tapping into that progressive tradition with renewed vigor.
The immediate problem for Romney and the Republican Party is that after a century or more of brainwashing by progressives in our public schools and universities, entire subcultures in the worlds of education, foundations, arts and entertainment, and public employees share the progressive worldview and its concept of “fairness.” In that culture, “class warfare” is not a campaign tactic, it’s a permanent fixture.
Republicans have been inept in dealing with this cultural guerrilla war because they have been slow to see it for what it is. Obama’s program is a challenge to the core principles and values that support the pillars of constitutional liberty. It’s not a debate about “four more years.” It’s a contest for America’s soul.
Once the true scope and pervasive character of this war is understood, no one can seriously propose to limit the battlefield to economic issues alone – and efforts to do so are doomed. The 2012 election is not referendum on the economy. It is referendum on Obama and his radical vision of a different, “transformed” America, an America that will look a lot more like modern Greece or France than any America dreamed of by our forefathers.
Winning this debate requires a vigorous defense of “American exceptionalism,” which is a fancy way of saying we have to defend the uniqueness of America as an exception to the misery and perennial despotism of other continents. The history of leftism in Europe and elsewhere is a history of broken promises and creeping totalitarianism. The left always demands more state power to fix the mess created by its own failures.
But the cultural war thrust on us by Obama’s radicalism is also a war encompassing more than one election. To turn America from that downward path will require not only a rejection of Obama in 2012 but also a refurbishing and strengthening of traditional American values across a wide spectrum of institutions.
If the Republican Party is not up to that arduous task, then a successor party will surely rise to the challenge.