Thank You, Mr. President, For the Opportunity of a Lifetime

 

Paul Rahe is seriously cheerful. I learned this when I interviewed the Hillsdale historian for Uncommon Knowledge last autumn. Prof. Rahe had just published Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift. The volume argues that “soft despotism,” the tendency, first identified by Tocqueville, to concentrate power in the central government by small, well-intentioned degrees, is all but choking America. Yet as he made his distressing case Prof. Rahe displayed a marvelous ebullience. When I asked why, he explained that the worst was already over. President Obama and the Democrats in Congress were even then in the process of overreaching, Prof. Rahe insisted. Soon enough, the American people would come to, realize what was happening, and push back, good and hard. The election of Barack Obama, Prof. Rahe insisted, represented “a gift to the friends of liberty.”

Which brings me to Ricochet.

Over the last week or so, we’ve been debating a) just how bad things are (general consensus: pretty bad), and, b) the proper way to comport ourselves. Should we wring our hands? (I’m never so happy as when I have an excuse to be gloomy.) Or should we instead buck up, as Claire has insisted with a Thatcheresque elan?

Over the weekend, I thought I’d get in touch with Paul Rahe, inviting him to let us know whether he remains as optimistic today as he did last autumn. Below, Prof. Rahe’s gracious reply. Claire will rejoice.

Paul Rahe writes:

Most conservatives regard Barack Obama’s election as a calamity. I see it as the opportunity of a lifetime. A year ago, in a blog post entitled The Great Awakening, I observed that “one cannot fool the American people for long,” and I predicted that “the real effect of the effort made by Obama and by figures such as Rahm Emanuel will be to unmask the Democratic Party as a conspiracy on the part of a would-be aristocracy of do-gooders hostile to very idea of self-government in the United States.” At the end of that post, I concluded,

We should be grateful to Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Rahm Emanuel. For, in their audacity, they have done what their predecessors feared to do; and, in the process, they have made the tyrannical propensities inherent within the progressive impulse visible to anyone who cares to take notice. What Franklin Delano Roosevelt falsely charged in 1936 is visibly true today. “A small group” is intent on concentrating “into their own hands an almost complete control over other people’s property, other people’s money, other people’s labor – other people’s lives.”

From time to time, in other posts linked to here or archived here and here, I have returned to this theme, suggesting that, thanks to President Obama, we will soon have an opportunity to roll back the administrative state and to re-establish constitutional government and the rule of law within the United States. If the Republicans have the moxie to seize the opportunity that they have been afforded, if they use the current crisis as an occasion for rearticulating the principles on which this country was founded, I am now more confident than ever that such a transformation will take place. All that is required is statesmanship.

Members have made 19 comments.

  1. Profile photo of Mel Foil Inactive

    I was listening to Karl Rove on the radio today (he was filling in for Rush Limbaugh, did an excellent job) and he’s very optimistic about Republican victory. It’s on track to be huge. But one danger is, the Democrats have lots of money to spend, and they’re buying up lots of TV ad time. An unanswered negative political ad can be deadly. Republicans have to come up with the money to push back with their own ads, or the monumental victory could be less monumental.

    • #1
    • August 10, 2010 at 1:15 am
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  2. Profile photo of Keith Rickert Jr Inactive

    Historically, though, entitlements don’t go away. That’s my fear with Obamacare. It will take a massive amount of political will and power to roll that thing back all the way. The odds are against it going away; and as people get used to it and can no longer remember life without it, won’t it pull them further into the Entitlement State? And then there’s those progressive Supreme Court nominees. One more of those and…

    • #2
    • August 10, 2010 at 1:48 am
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  3. Profile photo of GriffMTS Inactive

    I am encouraged by Professor Rahe’s optimism that Obama/Pelosi/Reid’s overreach will inspire the American people to endeavor to “roll back the administrative state and to re-establish constitutional government and the rule of law.” Like Professor Rahe, it is my impression that America remains a center-right nation, and the majority of Americans still desire the individual freedom and democratic decision making process that the current administration seeks to undermine.

    One quibble I have, though, is that I am not sure that the technocratic “aristocracy” into whose hands the power is to be concentrated is, in fact, a “small group.” Obamacare added 159 new commissions/boards/agencies to administer the program. Similarly, the financial reform bill moved significant amounts of oversight into the unaccountable hands of the Fed and the SEC. In each case, decision-making power was given to hundreds, if not thousands, of career bureaucrats, who will cling to this power with both hands. I would hope that repealing Obamacare, for example, (difficult as this would be) would dissolve these new entities with one blow; however, I fear that this process may be more intricate and difficult than it might appear at first blush.

    • #3
    • August 10, 2010 at 1:50 am
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  4. Profile photo of tabula rasa Member

    Like Peter, I tend to be happiest when I have a real complaint: and the Obama administration has given me plenty of them.

    Yet I think Professor Rahe makes good optimistic points (and his book is superb).

    My only big concern is whether Republicans will seize the initiative that the people are likely to give them in November because to roll-back the Obama bills, we’re also going to need the Senate and, most important of all, the presidency in 2012.

    A big concern is missed opportunities. I like the Tea Parties and tea partiers, but I fear that in the exuberance that comes from them, we may overreach with poor candidates. I have nothing against Sharon Angell, but I think that we would be in a much better position with either Lowden or Tarkanian to send Harry Reid off to a happy retirement.

    Conservatives must remember that, fallible as it may be, the only horse that will carry us to a workable majority is the Republican party.

    • #4
    • August 10, 2010 at 1:50 am
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  5. Profile photo of The Mugwump Inactive

    I’m confident the American public will push back hard against the political class in the next election. The polling data certainly seems to suggest this is the case. Nevertheless, I remain somewhat fearful about our prospects as a nation in 2011 and 2012. Obama has shown a tendency to overreach. He also tends to be arrogant, rash, and impulsive. Once he loses Congress, I think he will try to rule by executive fiat. This could very well provoke a constitutional crisis as Republicans are forced to defend congressional prerogatives. Hearings and investigations might reveal illegal activity in the executive branch, and then all hell breaks loose. An impeachment trial would cause the sort of civil disorder not seen since 1968. I’m hoping for the best, but prepared for worse.

    • #5
    • August 10, 2010 at 2:00 am
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  6. Profile photo of EJHill Contributor

    Being the defending title holder of the Peggy Noonan/Eyeore Award (bestowed randomly by Claire Berlinski), I need to throw a wet blanket or two.

    This disaffection among the voters is not a Democrat vs Republican thing. The GOP is, at the present time, just the lesser of two evils. This runs a lot deeper than mere partisanship. If the serious minded among us gets the slightest idea that the incoming Congress is being “co-opted” and that the GOP used them just to get power and return us to the free spending ways of the crowd that ran up George W’s debt, it could get real ugly, real fast.

    • #6
    • August 10, 2010 at 2:00 am
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  7. Profile photo of Michael Labeit Member

    I understand Dr. Rahe’s argument. The statists within the Obama administration, by wearing their statism ostentatiously and for the country to view, have inadvertently discredited it to a certain extent. However, I have two “objections” if you will.

    The flagrant collectivism of the Obama administration entails that they will be necessarily worse in power then previous, more restrained collectivistic administrations. In pursuing collectivist objectives more boldly and defiantly, the administration has already caused incalculable damage. Furthermore, the American people certainly are not immune to the siren call of statism. Dr. Rahe recalls in his book the fear freedom invokes, the idea (developed by Montesquieu or Tocqueville) that liberty bestows upon the individual within society a tremendous responsibility: he cannot coerce others or have others coerced to be responsible for him. Without the state, the individual must provide for his own living, for his own retirement, his own shelter, his own food, etc. He must make a thousand decisions independently. The state allays these fears while liberty aggravates them.

    We have had FDR, LBJ, and Barack Obama. Its unlikely that the American people will never again be persuaded to elect tyrants into office who will further expand the state.

    • #7
    • August 10, 2010 at 2:55 am
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  8. Profile photo of Michael Labeit Member

    The cause for celebration suggested by Dr. Rahe is entirely contingent upon the assumption that the Republicans will use their political power to role back the authority of the federal government once they overcome the Democrats electorally. What if they don’t (this is not just a hypothetical question)? Past Republican electoral triumphs have ended mostly in failure e.g., the “Contract with America,” the Republican trio-dom (executive, legislative, and judicial) of the early to mid 2000s – that is, if delimiting the government is one’s purpose. Will the Republicans take on the Federal Reserve? The Department of Education? Energy? The EPA?

    • #8
    • August 10, 2010 at 3:07 am
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  9. Profile photo of James Poulos Contributor
    ~Paules: I remain somewhat fearful about our prospects as a nation in 2011 and 2012. Obama has shown a tendency to overreach. He also tends to be arrogant, rash, and impulsive. Once he loses Congress, I think he will try to rule by executive fiat. This could very well provoke a constitutional crisis as Republicans are forced to defend congressional prerogatives. Hearings and investigations might reveal illegal activity in the executive branch, and then all hell breaks loose. An impeachment trial would cause the sort of civil disorder not seen since 1968. I’m hoping for the best, but prepared for worse. · Aug 9 at 2:00pm

    Grimness! I suppose that could happen, Paules, but why wouldn’t Obama want to coast through the next two years as an accomplished President beloved by his supporters and a humble President who the right can learn to tolerate? Only to return to form in 2012, once everyone’s guard is down? Don’t all the incentives point toward a President who behaves himself in the runup to the next Presidential election?

    • #9
    • August 10, 2010 at 3:45 am
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  10. Profile photo of The Mugwump Inactive

    James Poulos: “Grimness! I suppose that could happen, Paules, but why wouldn’t Obama want to coast through the next two years as an accomplished President beloved by his supporters and a humble President who the right can learn to tolerate?”

    James, your scenario could happen, too. All it takes is a president who shows a little maturity, wisdom, patience, humility, restraint, and a willingness to compromise. Which of these virtues would say that Mr. Obama has displayed so far? If character is destiny, then the president will revert to form because he can’t help himself.

    • #10
    • August 10, 2010 at 4:11 am
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  11. Profile photo of James Poulos Contributor
    ~Paules: James Poulos: “Grimness! I suppose that could happen, Paules, but why wouldn’t Obama want to coast through the next two years as an accomplished President beloved by his supporters and a humble President who the right can learn to tolerate?”

    James, your scenario could happen, too. All it takes is a president who shows a little maturity, wisdom, patience, humility, restraint, and a willingness to compromise. Which of these virtues would say that Mr. Obama has displayed so far? If character is destiny, then the president will revert to form because he can’t help himself. · Aug 9 at 4:11pm

    Or a willingness to keep his powder dry for the big swing at a second term. None of those virtues you listed above are particularly Clintonian — except, perhaps, for a willingness to get into compromising situations. And look what happened to Bubba: a mere two years after pleading that the Presidency was still relevant, he was back on top. Surely Obama is not too arrogant to take one lesson from the Clintons. After all, he’s good at politickin’!

    • #11
    • August 10, 2010 at 5:45 am
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  12. Profile photo of Scott R Member

    Because of the very qualities Paules describes, Obama could potentially, over time, become unmatched historically in his unpopularity, eventually leading to his abandonment by many in his party and the rise of a Clinton-induced schism. This would be the very best scenario for Republicans (and hence for the country), since such a battle (if won by Clinton or some other “moderate” figure) could sever the African-American voting block from the Democrats, without which Democrats will have a heck of a time consistently winning elections.

    • #12
    • August 10, 2010 at 5:52 am
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  13. Profile photo of Jonathan Matthew Gilbert Member
    Scott Reusser: This would be the very best scenario for Republicans (and hence for the country), since such a battle (if won by Clinton or some other “moderate” figure) could sever the African-American voting block from the Democrats, without which Democrats will have a heck of a time consistently winning elections. · Aug 9 at 5:52pm

    Very possible in the long-term, though I think (partly given her 76% approval, though obviously that would drop the moment she started running) that as far as 2012 goes…Hillary could win without the African-American vote. I’ve always believed Sarah Palin was picked not to appeal to women but to appeal to a lot of Hillary’s working-class, blue-collar male voters. And it worked. But that doesn’t mean they won’t go back and vote for Hillary again if given the opportunity, especially if she faced an inadequate or highly divisive GOP nominee. A lot of people who voted for Obama in 2008 may never vote again any, not just African-Americans but also many young idealists.

    • #13
    • August 10, 2010 at 6:06 am
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  14. Profile photo of Andrea Ryan Member
    ~Paules: James, your scenario could happen, too. All it takes is a president who shows a little maturity, wisdom, patience, humility, restraint, and a willingness to compromise. Which of these virtues would say that Mr. Obama has displayed so far? If character is destiny, then the president will revert to form because he can’t help himself. · Aug 9 at 4:11pm

    I’m not underestimating anything when it comes to Obama’s ability to scheme and manipulate to get what he wants. It has nothing to do with maturity, wisdom, patience, humility, restraint and a willingness to compromise when it’s disingenuous. He was the consummate con man during his campaign and I think he has it in him to pull that facade out again. The key is whether America will buy his game a second time.

    • #14
    • August 10, 2010 at 6:07 am
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  15. Profile photo of

    I went back and listened to the interview. It reminded me of something I learned a long time ago. You can surround yourself with people who feel essentially the way you do and create a self-fulfilling prophecy simply by the the inertia that is caused by a lack of fresh thinking.

    Dr. Rahe’s interview was very different than most of the analysis I have been reading of late. Certainly, there is a sense that there is a movement afoot to reverse the Obama wave, but nowhere have I heard anything as positive and logical based not on a current movement but on a more global sense of the manner in which a people react. The word groundswell seems most appropriate to explain what Dr. Rahe is predicting. It is something that I find emotionally very satisfying and intellectually very credible. His description of the Protestant ethic and the characteristics of the person who subscribes to it is how I would describe myself. I find the intrusion of the government into my private life infuriating. That may be the major impetus that drives many to the tea parties. Fascinating. Thank you Peter.

    • #15
    • August 10, 2010 at 6:30 am
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  16. Profile photo of Scott R Member

    Another U.K. guest I’d like Peter to check in with would be Charles Kesler. He ended his interview on a similar–though briefer–upbeat note: A wry, knowing “I don’t think so” when asked by Peter if Obama can “pull it off,” and that interview took place months before even Rahe’s.

    • #16
    • August 10, 2010 at 6:50 am
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  17. Profile photo of

    Peter, thank you. I am listening to Dr. Rahe again this morning. I grew up in New York City and have spent my life moving further and further into the wilderness. In the third segment Dr. Rahe is describing local government and the sense of control that people have of their lives under that. Having grown up in Queens where the local government is as large and distant as the state governments of some states, and I dare say countries, it occurred to me that that is why those living on the overcrowded coasts seem so willing to surrender to statist regimes. They have no sense of control, even at the lowest levels of their government. In smaller towns and in the midwest people have a greater sense of their own power. For me, gun ownership has a great deal to do with the sense of independence and self sufficiency which is lacking in those I grew up with. Where they remain they must accept the “protection” of the government in all of its beneficence.

    • #17
    • August 10, 2010 at 8:45 am
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  18. Profile photo of Peter Robinson Founder
    Peter Robinson Post author

    Eugene, “emotionally very satisfying and intellectually very credible” is just the way I’d sum up Prof. Rahe myself. (And welcome to Ricochet. I may have missed something earlier, but this is the first time I’ve noticed your posting.)

    Scott, that’s a darned good suggestion. I’m off to the mountains with my family in the morning, but when we return from our vacation next week, I’ll get in touch with Charles.

    • #18
    • August 10, 2010 at 8:56 am
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  19. Profile photo of Jim Chase Member
    … If the Republicans have the moxie to seize the opportunity that they have been afforded, if they use the current crisis as an occasion for rearticulating the principles on which this country was founded, I am now more confident than ever that such a transformation will take place. All that is required is statesmanship. ·

    These are pretty big “ifs”. We can’t afford to just “hope” the Republicans answer this call. As citizens, we have to demand that they answer this call.

    To the extent that the overreach of Obama, Pelosi, Reid and others have afforded us a real opportunity for the reawakening of first principles, and a real awareness of the seriousness of the threat to those founding principles, then I suppose we can be grateful for crystal clear examples to make the case.

    But I fear it will take more than just statemanship to prevail in what promises to be a battle royale. Much more.

    • #19
    • August 10, 2010 at 12:53 pm
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