Fall And Declinism

by The New Republic | July 28, 2009

David Frum continues to be an invaluable, and lonely, voice of reason in the midst of the conservative crackup. Here he is offering some perspective on the bitter declinism sweeping the GOP:

The apocalyptic despair heard from today’s conservatives is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong as a description of reality, wrong politically, wrong psychologically, wrong morally....

In 1975, the federal government set the price of every airline ticket, every ton of rail freight, every cubic foot of natural gas and every barrel of oil. It controlled the interest rates paid on checking accounts and the commission charged by stockbrokers. If you wanted to ship a crate of lettuce from one state to another, you first had to file a routemap with a federal agency. It was a crime for a private citizen to own a gold coin. The draft had ended only two years before, but not until 1975 itself did Congress formally end the state of emergency (and the special grant of presidential powers) declared at US entry into the First World War.

And here he is on the paranoia and extremism that this declinism nourishes:

If I lived in a country in imminent danger of a Bolshevik or Fascist seizure of power, I’d be a cowardly fool if I failed to use every means to prevent it, including violence if need be. If it were true that our political opponents wanted to impose tyranny on the United States – if (as Rush Limbaugh said the other day) a vote for the other party was a vote for “totalitarianism, dungeons, and torture,” then what patriot could possibly abide a political defeat?

Happily, none of those things are true. As wrong and harmful as the Obama administration’s plans are, the administration is playing by the rules of the game. To agitate people into thinking otherwise is to corrode the foundations of the American constitutional regime....

If America has been sliding gently but irresistibly into soft despotism, where were all the valiant defenders of liberty before November of 2008? Soft despotism begins to look less like a profound sociological trend, more like undulations of the sine curve: It’s despotism when we lose, freedom when we win. We should have more confidence in the people and the country than this. We should also have more charity to our political opponents – who after all are contending with hideous problems bequeathed to them by … by … well suddenly we Republicans cannot seem to remember who preceded Barack Obama in office. To listen to us, you’d think that the bailouts and takeovers started on January 20, 2009, not the previous March. You’d never know that TARP was supported by almost every Republican commentator, including the editors of National Review. Or that Vice President Cheney argued urgently in favor of the rescue of the Detroit automakers. Or that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac enjoyed the backing of Republican as well as Democratic lawmakers.

Sad, that in order to have a platform for such observations, Frum had to leave National Review and launch a new website.

--Christopher Orr

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/the-plank/fall-and-declinism