The Issue Come November 2012
Let's peer into a crystal ball. What's the top issue a year from now, at the time of next November's national election? Here's what it won't be: allegations of sexual harassment against Herman Cain. It won't be Rick Perry's tongue-tiedness. It won't be Mitt Romney's flip-flops. It won't be Michelle Obama's push to have salad bars in public schools.
Fast on the heels of the economy will be President Obama's performance -- or his lack of performance -- in handling the nation's sick economy. And not incidentally, Mr. Obama -- he of spendthrift government -- will be in the docket for making the debt bomb bigger and more dangerous to the nation's welfare.
Or things may prove decidedly worse by next November. The economy's wobbly footing could have slipped, sending the nation on a bumpy, perhaps steep decline. That ticking debt bomb could well be exploding by next Election Day if Europeans fail to kick their own collective debt bomb down the road a ways.
Mr. Obama and his Democrats can only pray (okay, secularists aren't apt to pray) that France's Sarkozy and Germany's Merkel -- the muscle behind Brussels -- manage to quarantine the current Greek crisis before Greece spreads its contagion to other vulnerable European countries -- namely, Italy and Spain. Little Greece remains the tripwire for a possible global financial and economic implosion -- and we're talking about an implosion that gives the United States more than heartburn. Given the interrelatedness of national economies, given the relationships among Europe's financial institutions and America's, Europe going down the tubes will drag the United States right behind it. Somehow, George Washington's admonition about the U.S. avoiding "entangling alliances" needs to be broadened and updated.
Don't be fooled. The best and brightest among the EU elite aren't going to solve Europe's massive debt crisis (or the debt crises of European states that make up the European Union, to be specific) -- not the way they're going about it now. As the great Margret Thatcher famously said, the problem with socialism (or statism, generally) is that it runs out of other people's money. Europe's governments can't scratch up enough dough to cover huge national debts.
It's certainly not hyperbole to suggest that by next November, America could face crises both economic and systemic. Systemic because Americans' forbearance will have been exhausted, just like Uncle Sam's credit cards. In circumstances where the economy is spiraling into a second, more severe recession (or, dare we say, the early stages of a depression), Tea Partiers and sympathizers among independents and, yes, even among some rank-and-file Democrats will want the system overturned. What does that mean, to overturn the system?
It means that the sizeable and growing cohort among the American electorate that's come to reject the New Deal -- and the New Deal's permutations that grew out of the 1930s -- will seek an historic redirection of the United States. That redirection will favor liberty, meaning less government, and dramatically so.
Woe to the Republican presidential nominee -- whoever that may be -- who hasn't caught the tidal wave of change that the conservative grassroots will want to sweep the nation. And woe to John Boehner and other congressional Republicans if they stick to the tired, vacuous mantra of wanting to reach across the aisle to work with Democrats. Fear of shadows and incrementalism won't be what most voters will desire. Revolution will be in the air -- nonviolent, democratic revolution -- with the names of Jefferson and Madison and Jackson on the lips of the revolutionaries.
Yet it won't be freedom-loving Americans alone who will fight for change. As in nature, in human affairs, there are opposite reactions, though not always equal.
The Occupy Wall Street crowd is the leading edge of an opposite reaction to the freedom movement that has arisen across the country. Occupy Wall Streeters stand for portions of the nation that would use a seriously deteriorating economy to militate for change away from liberty.
While many of the participants in the Occupy Wall Street shenanigans are buffoonish kids with a taste for '60s hippie nostalgia or '30s-era solidarity demonstrations with Stalin, they do represent the left, and have sympathizers in academia, the media, and government. Certainly, Mr. Obama has made halting attempts to try to harness the Occupy Wall Street effort for his cynical political benefit.
The Occupy Wall Street crowd is also something of a mouthpiece for the nation's claimant segments. Those claimant segments are large and include welfare dependents; Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid recipients; college loan recipients; government contractors; government employees; and groups, organizations, and industries receiving federal grants or subsidies. Of course, most Social Security and Medicare recipients aren't anti-freedom. A kid on a federal college loan isn't necessarily a statist. Uncle Sam has tried his darnest to make us all government dependents.
But Uncle Sam has his financial hooks deep in Americans from all walks of life. If an already poor economy takes a turn for the worse next year, and Washington has to confront a Greece-like situation of an unsustainable debt, then calls for, or the necessity of, significant welfare state reforms and draconian cuts to federal government outlays would serve to coalesce statist elements, just as it would accelerate the coalescence of liberty-loving Americans.
If polls are correct, freedom-lovers are a majority, but not necessarily by much (it depends on the basket of issues more than ideological labels). If Americans begin feeling really insecure and frightened by the nation's condition and prospects, human nature being what it is, plenty of otherwise reasonable Americans may respond to calls for stronger government as a remedy to the nation's ills. Such calls for more muscular government are typically couched as temporary (government encroachments are rarely so). As we've seen over the last eighty years, government "solutions" are easier to grasp than solutions provided by freedom's invisible hand. In times of stress, particularly, people often want what appears simpler.
All of this is to suggest that by Election Day 2012, the nation may be in the throes of a tumult similar to 1968 while confronting an economic issue on the scale of what was faced in 1932. Not pretty. But as the saying goes: "Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized." Most emphatically, let's pray our worst fears aren't realized.