February 20 2012

De Tocqueville On 2012

Charlotte Hays

The key point in Andrew Sullivan’s recent Newsweek cover story on President Obama is the notion that the president is playing a long game and that, because of his patience, the far-seeing president will outsmart his critics.

Most of Sullivan’s story was contorted logic, but this idea seems absolutely, as the Brits say, spot on. President Obama knows it will take time to complete his transformation of the United States and his every move hinges on that.

Unfortunately, conservatives aren't keeping the long game in mind. There is a growing anger and frustration, reflected in much of the campaign rhetoric, that the 2010 midterms didn’t immediately reverse certain policies and trends.

Michael Barone addresses the issue of conservatives who want it now today in a must-read column headlined “Prudence Is Key to Reversing Obama’s ‘Soft Despotism:’”

Such impatience is unbecoming in those who call themselves "constitutional conservatives." It is James Madison's Constitution that prevents the winners of one election from directing the course of public policy as unilaterally as, to take one example, the British Labor Party marched Britain into a socialist welfare state on the basis of one election victory in 1945.

We have a House of Representatives 100 percent of whose members were elected in a historic Republican year, a president elected in a historic Democratic year, and a Senate two-thirds of whose members were elected in historic Democratic years and one-third in a historic Republican year.

 It should not be surprising that they cannot agree on policy. Most of the high-minded folk who decry "gridlock" would like the Republican House to say uncle. The Republicans bemoaning their leaders' lack of boldness imagine that if they force confrontation they can somehow prevail.

Neither can succeed in the framework the Framers gave us -- not until another election.

By the way, in calling for prudence, Barone doesn’t understate what is at stake—to the contrary, he writes that the conservatives want to turn back what Alexis de Tocqueville characterized as “soft despotism.”

When De Tocqueville visited the young United States in the 1830s, he saw a nation of voluntary civic organizations, a populace that engaged with the local government and believed in religion as a force to instill self-discipline and moderation. But, as Barone notes, the great thinker also foresaw the perils we now face:

Above a democratic populace, he writes, "an immense tutelary power is elevated, which alone takes charge of assuring their enjoyments and watching over their fate. It is absolute, detailed, rigid, far-seeing and mild. It would resemble paternal power if, like that, it had for its object to prepare men for manhood; but on the contrary, it seeks only to keep them fixed irrevocably in childhood; it likes citizens to enjoy themselves. It willingly works for their happiness; but it wants to be the unique agent and sole arbiter of that."

Thus Tocqueville, writing in the 1830s, foresees Obamacare and the crony capitalism that produces a Super Bowl commercial from a government- and union-controlled company that seeks Obama's re-election.

Please read the entire column (and maybe Democracy in America is a good book for the campaign season?) to know what is at stake and to read a good argument for playing the long game.  

 

 

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