Conservatives are grieving. If they had to identify what they are grieving over, many would probably say either the death of the Republican Party or the end of conservative influence. I am grieving the end of the "specialness" that has been the United States.
Professionals tell us the five stages of grief are:
I'm almost out of my depression and arriving at acceptance. What do I accept? That the U.S. is just another European country now. We are all welfare states if not outright socialist ones and our political choices are between center-left and left-left. Time to get used to it. Moving to France won't make much difference, whether you are Alec Baldwin or Chuck Norris.
If you deny this, look at the facts. Government in the US spent 37% of GDP in 2006. The European countries of Ireland, Switzerland and Slovakia all spent smaller fractions, as did Australia and South Korea. The OECD total was just a tad more, at 41%. The extreme welfare states have tended to regress to the mean. Sweden, for example, cut government spending from 72% of GDP to 56% between 1993 and 2006. The US is in the same mix, as we all converge to 40% territory.
When we all used to believe in God, a tithe was suggested - 10%. Now the suggested donation is 40%. Except it's not a donation; it's not a mere suggestion; and it is not rendered to God.
The US is still doing pretty well income-wise as measured by GDP per capita, but the gaps are closing there as well. In 2004 it was $39,732. Luxembourg ($60,188) and Norway ($40,568) were actually richer. The OECD average was only 72% of ours, but catching up were Ireland (91%), Switzerland (87%) and others. In economic freedom, the US is still doing pretty well, but it is not tops. It scored 80.6 in 2008 as scored by the Heritage Foundation , putting it in fifth place behind Hong Kong, Singapore, Ireland and Australia. But countries right on our tail, scoring above 75, were New Zealand, Canada, Chile, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Estonia, the Netherlands, Iceland and Luxembourg.
It seems clear that in economic matters the US has become just another European country. How are we different?
- While we don't yet have universal health care, our government spends more on health care than most countries that do.
- We pay the lion's share of defending those countries listed above. While they spend about 1% to 2.5% of their GDP on defense, we spend over 4%.
- We have more lawyers. According to a sourced wiki site , the US has 70% of the world's lawyers but only 5% of its population. The US has one lawyer for every 300 people whereas France has only one for every 1,400.
- Our children are less well-educated. In 2006 they ranked below 28 other countries in science literacy, for example, just below Croatia and Latvia .
I don't think these differences are what we had in mind when considering the US "special".
Conservatives, of course, have recognized this creeping socialism and have been angry about it for some time now. To be more precise, the anger peaked shortly after election day 1992. By 1994, pundits were analyzing the electoral influence of the "angry white male". And conservatives channeled that anger with some effect. They took control of both houses of Congress in 1994. They ended welfare. They cut federal spending and capital gains tax rates while running budget surpluses. They impeached President Clinton. They put President George H. W. Bush's son (he born with "a silver foot in his mouth") in the Presidency and gave him both houses of Congress in 2000, and again in 2002 after Jumpin' Jim Jeffords beat McCain to the Independent punch.
But what they ended up with for their efforts was "compassionate conservatism". President George W. Bush increased federal spending from Clinton's 18.4% of GDP (lowest since 1966) to over 20%. Surpluses became deficits. Campaign financing was "reformed". Clinton's Americorps was expanded. No child was left without Ted Kennedy holding one hand and the National Education Association holding the other. Normal light bulbs were outlawed. Bono wants aid for Africa? Have him visit our Treasury Secretary or the Pentagon and double African AIDS funding. Barack Obama suggests a $120B economic stimulus package? Send the Senate a $150B one.
Time to bargain.
Just as conservatives realized in horror what an all-Republican government did with its first chance at total governance in 48 years, an opportunity to fix things appeared: the 2008 elections. Our bargaining would take place in the greatest political bazaar of all - the U.S. presidential primaries. The menagerie of candidates ranged from the bizarre Ron Paul and the perennial Alan Keyes to the pro-choice Rudy Giuliani, the effervescent Fred Thompson, the Mormon Mitt Romney and the Reverend Mike Huckabee.
After all the give and take of democratic debate and real voting, the last man standing was John McCain -- the 71-year-old who has spent the last 26 years in Congress and who gave us McCain-Feingold, McCain-Kennedy and McCain-Lieberman.
So much for bargaining.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the following are signs of depression.
- Loss of interest in normal daily activities.
- Depressed mood.
- Sleep disturbances.
- Impaired thinking or concentration.
- Changes in weight.
- Fatigue or slowing of body movements.
- Low self-esteem or guilt.
- Less interest in sex.
- Thoughts of death.
Sound familiar? Well, not that sex one of course. But what about the others? Examples of "depressed mood", "impaired thinking" or "agitation", can be found among the comment posts on conservative web sites like Lucianne or Free Republic. For "sleep disturbances" look at the times of day they were posted. For "low self-esteem" or "guilt", look at the blame being thrown on fellow Republicans or conservatives. For "thoughts of death", hear what people say about the Republican Party.
My friends (as John McCain might say), there is only one step left in our grieving.
Look at it this way. You've been stranded on an island inhabited by people who look like you but who have strange beliefs. They think you get more jobs by raising costs on people who provide them. They think you get less poverty by paying people to prove they are poor. They think you move toward a color blind society by requiring people to check a box for "race" on official forms. They think a jury is better informed if evidence is withheld from it. They think war is best avoided by not preparing for one. They think voter choice is improved by outlawing ads paid for by citizens (with exceptions given to the candidates themselves and newspaper editors).
They're not quite sacrificing virgins to the volcano, but they are willing to sacrifice large fractions of the economy because the temperature increased one degree over the last one hundred years and their computer-driven oracles tell them it's your fault.
And they are a bit touchy. Of a population around 6 billion, they killed upwards of 170 million of each other in the last century, not counting garden-variety murders. Draw the wrong cartoon and you might be next.
It's the democracy, stupid.
There's not much you can do about it. Try to get along. Hang out with the friendlier ones. Don't tell them you think their beliefs are strange; it will upset them. Talk about baseball or something. (But not the weather!)
That shining city on the hill you thought you saw? A mirage. An atmospheric or historic anomaly. Move on.
You are stuck on this island. Accept it. Make the best of it. At least that's what I keep telling myself. Then again, there's maybe Ireland.