The Gipper on Obama’s Cold War mind warp

How about that Democratic National Convention?  While the Left heaped praise on Bill Clinton’s speech, media generally opined that President Obama’s was muted and relatively unimpressive.  No promise of a sweeping agenda, but a plea to hang on because things are moving in the right direction.  Never mind that, per the historical record, the recovery should be moving much more briskly.

One of the most memorable moments of the President’s speech came when he attacked Mitt Romney for being “stuck in a Cold War mind warp.”  As he tells it, Governor Romney wants to return to a time of “blustering and blundering.”  This is a rather unfortunate way for President Obama to describe the most significant–and a greatly triumphant–chapter in American history.

Think of the man who had the biggest role in leading America to victory in that nearly five decade showdown between freedom and tyranny: Ronald Reagan.  His greatest speech (transcript and YouTube) was called “A Time for Choosing.”  In it, he reminded Americans of their country’s exceptional worth and the tremendous stakes of a prolonged conflict with the Soviet Union.  In retrospect, Americans today can rightly claim a fulfillment of what Reagan called “our rendezvous with destiny.”

But for the media and Democrats, “blustering and blundering” suffice for a label.  The tendency on the Left has always been to trivialize national security concerns.  At the heart of the liberal worldview, communists, jihadis, and so on are ultimately well-meaning, misunderstood types.  But Reagan had it right.  There have been and will continue to be dire times when serious foes will work to end our way of life.  Appropriately, these moments are “a time for choosing.”

This past Spring, Mr. Obama made a choice of sorts when he announced his flexibility for Mr. Putin after the election.  Granted, Russia is not the committed ideological foe it once was, but it has hardly been a global Boy Scout either.

There is another way in which Obama erred by his “mind warp” comment.  The Cold War was not just an arms race, but the ultimate game of statist one-upmanship.  Recall Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society.”  The world’s superpowers were out to win prestige in every arena, including who could build the biggest, shiniest welfare state.  In large part, the heavy expenditures and extensive central planning required for this contest buried the Soviet bloc.  Even social democracies like the once mighty Great Britain had to change their tack.

In America, the 1970s shocks of the OPEC crisis and stagflation disabused many of the welfare state utopia.  President Reagan proclaimed the following decade: “In this crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”  And in the 1990s President Clinton conceded, “the era of big government is over.”  And in the time since, conservative governments from Scandinavia to Canada have improved their economic fortunes by shifting policy to the right.

Of course there are those who still haven’t gotten the memo.  It would seem that President Obama, who has yet to demonstrate meaningful concern for the debt, is one such person.  When it comes to engorging the superstructure of the welfare state, Mr. Obama has shown himself to be the one stuck in a Cold War mindset.

The half-life of racism

Attorney General Eric Holder made a bit of a splash when speaking at Columbia earlier this year.  He told the audience at his alma mater that he could not imagine a time when the need for racial preferences like affirmative action would cease.

So at what point does racism stop mattering in American life?  Perhaps you’ve entertained this question before.  If government, civil society and churches have been laboring against this great sin for decades, is there anything to show for it?

Surely, in 300 years, after our great-grandchildren are deceased, the old, nasty attitudes so prevalent before the Civil Rights era will have been expunged.  But if not, there will be sophisticated equipment–maybe like a Star Trek tricorder–to empirically identify any remnants.

For now, we are lucky to have wagging tongues like Chris Matthews to tell us when someone is being racist.  Or, we can just as well heed the dire warnings of speakers at this year’s Democratic National Convention.

Anyone who genuinely seeks a substantive discussion of issues, such as our raging national debt or the proper scope of federal government, has required a little patience in dealing with smokescreens thrown up by progressives and Democrats.  We know these as racism, the war on women, homophobia and so on.

The identity politics fiefdom built on these “wedge” issues is troubling in how it treats people in need as abstractions, not individuals.  The long history of progressive prescriptions affirms the ineffectiveness of promises perennially extended toward these abstracted victims.  President Johnson launched a “War on Poverty” in the 1960s, but the numbers of poor and dependent have reliably increased in the decades since.  Why should we think that President Obama, in spending ever more sums on the same problems, will change that?

While some conditions haven’t improved, there has been tremendous progress on societal attitudes.  Among those born after the tumult of the 1960s, the ideal of “equality” crowns the paramount virtue of “tolerance.”  But many remain beholden to the hope that just a little more money to social programs, a little more Ad Council propaganda, will actually change conditions for the abstraction.

What if these well-intended moves crowd out the healthy habits and cultural capital necessary to the success of the individual?  These, not the wasteful expenditures of federal welfare programs, are what can change conditions on the ground.  But to assess this soberly will require a little distance from the crooning promises of “Hope and Change” or MSNBC’s alarmist cries of “racism!”

Would it be safe to say that, in America today, we’re beyond the half-life of racism or patriarchy?  Existential struggle against oppression need not trump every policy consideration.  As I noted recently, a diverse lineup of thought leaders in media and at this year’s Republican National Convention have given us hope that we’re past that point.  For the sake of true progress, and the issues that really matter, I hope November will reflect a similar move among the population at large.

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