Sep 27 2010
As many on the right complain, and many on the left deny (either from delusion or collusion), the country was heading towards a socialistic model of government until the Reagan revolution took hold. And this abrupt change from a government run and mandated society towards the free flow of ideas and competition America had grown strong on, has become the nexus from which America was going to emerge and take us into the future.
The pendulum battles we have lived through from Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr, Clinton, W Bush and now Obama are all part and parcel of deciding which America would survive. This important history is all incredibly well documented in this article by James Bennett in the National Review [H/T RCP]:
Admirers and detractors of the United States agree on one point: This country is unusually resistant to the social consensus and set of structures broadly known as “social democracy” or “progressivism.” (Social democracy leans more toward state ownership, progressivism toward state regulation.) Various versions of such schemes have prevailed in Western Europe and Japan, and to a lesser degree in Britain, Canada, and Australia. The characteristics include a wider scope and role for the state, centralization of decision-making in a national bureaucracy, monopolization of power by a set of large institutions, including state-champion corporations and labor unions, and a wide variety of social entitlements for all citizens. This was the classic progressive economic program; since the 1960s, it has also included certain social characteristics, such as official multiculturalism.
And in 1976 it did appear that such an administration was at hand, with the election of James Earl Carter. When Carter gained the presidency over a wounded Republican party, he mistook his narrow victory for a mandate to continue moving along the track toward a European-style social democracy, building on Johnson’s and Nixon’s enhancements of centralized power. In this he was basically following the trajectory of Britain and Canada. Carter envisioned moving toward fully government-controlled medicine, a government-dominated energy sector enforcing strict rationing, and a federally dominated school system promoting governing-class values. In order to carry out his agenda, he created and entrenched two new cabinet bureaucracies, the Departments of Energy and of Education, and a wide variety of new pork and entitlement programs, such as the Comprehensive Education and Training Act and an expansion of the scandal-plagued Community Development Corporations.
Interestingly enough, it is easy to see why the Departments of Energy and Education are on the list of just about everyone ready to start shrinking government. Research in energy production is fine, as is making sure energy is safely provided and used. Beyond that forget about it as a federal responsibility. The only role for the Feds in education is to provide a forum for lessons learned and new ideas to be shared, and maybe a pool of emergency funds for school districts needing infrastructure help. Beyond that there is no need for DC to tell us how to raise and educate our kids.
In fact, there are 100’s of agencies or offices or programs no one needs, or even knows about. And it would not be a surprise if they all traced their roots back to Democrat Presidents and Congresses.
The point is, America is not built on the ancestry of being peasants or servants to monarchs or royalty. We don’t have a deep history of class systems where generational elites are crowned the protectors of the people, too dimwitted or scared too make even the most basic decisions. Our history is of pioneers and explorers. We thrive at the community level and put our trust in the individual. We follow the entrepreneur, not in servitude but simply by example.
The Europeans never grew out of their serfdom stage. Americans never had one. So it is no surprise America is not going to become a socialist country.
In 2010, the U turn started by Ronald Reagan will be completed, as we begin to roll back government and once again put our faith and energy behind the human individual.
Although it wasn’t fully appreciated at the time, Reagan’s replacement of Carter marked a critical point (not the first, in fact, but the first generally noticed) of a great U-turn in American politics and society.
For decades — at a minimum, since the beginning of the Progressive Era, and arguably earlier — America had been on a course toward a more centralized society, one in which individualism as it had been understood since before the Founding — a society built on independent families living on their own properties, most of them farms — was being replaced by a different vision. The progressive vision was one of citizens as employees whose existence was mediated by negotiations among large corporations, unions, and government agencies. For such subjects, “rights” were to be a designated set of entitlements granted by those organizations.
In parallel, a set of explicitly deregulating and decentralizing developments had emerged, including the privatization of COMSAT (begun under Nixon), the legislative deregulation of the air-transport and freight-rail industries (done under Carter), and the court-ordered demise of the regulated telephone monopoly. The resulting drastic reductions in the price of rail freight, flying, and phone service made it substantially easier to do business nationwide, and indeed worldwide, independent of location. This was an often overlooked factor in the entrepreneurial takeoff and continuing decentralization of the Reagan years.
In 1962, the Canadian province of Saskatchewan created a mandatory, universal government-run medical-insurance scheme, although only after a bitter battle that included a 23-day doctors’ strike. Other provinces quickly followed suit, and by 1966 Canada had formally established by federal action a comprehensive, state-controlled medical system. Meanwhile, with his huge congressional majorities elected in 1964, Lyndon Johnson enacted Medicare. Many on the left thought this would soon be expanded to a general state-funded medical system. Yet no significant movement was made in that direction until the Obama administration’s legislation of this year, which still falls well short of either the British or the Canadian model. For a brief moment after the electoral triumph of the Left in 2008, it seemed as if the U-turn might be turned again. But the vociferous and widespread opposition to the Obama agenda suggests that the U-turn is part of a long-term transition and is not likely to be reversed by short-term politics.
It is interesting from time to time to look back and see how we got where we are, to better affirm the correctness of where we should be, or could be, heading. With the wave of libertarian anger building in the nation, I feel that once again this nation is on the right path. The unique path it was blessed to travel. For those who pine for more liberal or leftist societies – the world has plenty to offer. Just not here.