July 3, 2008
The Coming Hard ChoicesBy Christopher Chantrill
We talk a lot about "choices" in the United States, but what do we mean? Usually, we are talking about "rights," as the the right to an abortion, or the right to choose a school for your child.
But real choice is about making hard choices; it is about recognizing that things can't go on the way they are any more. It is about being ready to give up something precious in order to go on at all.
In normal times, especially in the sunshine of Morning in America and its aftermath, the American people do not have to make any hard choices.
In the political sector that has meant that soft choices predominate. Conservatives came and demanded that the nation fight the Cold War and the war on terror. Liberals came and demanded that the nation provide subsidies for inner-city homeowners. Conservatives demanded that marginal tax rates be lowered. Liberals demanded protection of the nation's wild and scenic areas. Conservatives demanded that the Second Amendment meant what it said it meant. Liberals demanded that the US start to combat the threat of global warming. Everyone got a piece of the action; there were no hard choices.
That is why Senator Barack Obama has needed to flip-flop on Iraq, on Reverend Wright and, last week, on campaign financing and gun control. When running for the nomination of his party he told the Democratic base there was no need for tough choices. Now he needs to tell the average independent voter that there is no need for tough choices.
Any time you make a choice, that choice has consequences. In our personal lives and our families that consequences can occur within months. In the business world the consequences appear within a year or two.
But government is different. People can argue about consequences for decades. According to Charles Murray in Losing Ground, liberals knew that their Great Society programs weren't working by 1970, five years after they declared War on Poverty in 1965. But it took 25 years before Newt Gingrich and the Republicans from the Class of 1994 managed to reform just one liberal welfare program. It was so much work that they decided to take a break from making hard choices. Anyway, once the federal budget got into surplus in the late 1990s everyone got into a spending mood.
Well here we are, it's ten years later and a bunch of consequences are upon us, and someone's going to have to make some hard choices.
Everyone is as mad as hell and they are not going to take it any more. Since it all happened on Bush's watch it stands to reason that he and the Republicans are to blame.
From an orthodox conservative perspective, the nation's problems all stem from clumsy government intervention in the market, the kind that liberals know and love. There are the endless subsidies for homeowners that direct a firehose of credit at the housing market-until the bubble bursts. There's the Federal Reserve endlessly chasing the business cycle with exemplary bureaucratic clumsiness -- and periodic inflationary burps to cure credit indigestion. There are the environmentalist meddlings with the energy market that make it difficult to develop energy resources and impossible to build oil refineries -- until $5.00 gasoline prompts a voter stampede to Drill, Drill, Drill.
But the American voters are not ready to agree with conservatives. Not yet.
That is why Democrats are planning to nominate Sen. Obama on an audacious hope for a change and Republicans intend to nominate Sen. McCain, their least conservative contender.
At a moment of threatening inflation, high gas prices, collapsing house prices, a threatening recession, and a difficult war, at least there's one candidate that is serious about one of the issues.
Win or lose in 2008 conservatives can take comfort. The hard choices are patient. They will wait for a new era of practical conservative reform.
Sooner or later the United States will have to make the hard choices needed to get to a sensible market-driven policy on energy, and conservatives will be there to help. Sooner or later the United States will have to make the hard choices needed to get to an education system in which parents decide what is best for their children. Sooner or later the United States will have to make the hard choices needed to get to a patient-directed health care system.
When it comes to the hard choices, conservatives have seen the future, and it works.