I wouldn’t bother responding to [David] Goldman’s overestimation of politics if it did not exemplify the annexation of American conservatism by the Republican Party. According to the defenders of this annexation, the fate of the country depends on the fortunes of Republican candidates, especially for president. But the truth is, the occupant of the White House doesn’t matter very much to many of the problems that conservatives care about. Politicians are rightly held responsible for specific policies. But the nation’s cultural health depends on us.
Sam is absolutely right about this. I want to add a few other observations. The belief that voting the Republican ticket into office has anything to do with saving “the republic” (as Spengler puts it) is delusional. That’s not because there are no dangers to constitutional republican government from executive overreach now, but because these candidates aren’t the least bit concerned about executive power grabs or illegal warfare. If you think there is a danger to the republic from the executive abusing its power, voting for Romney isn’t a remedy. It’s an invitation for more of the same from the other party. Reining in the executive will require pressure from the public and a rediscovery by Congress of its responsibilities to check the executive. As a general rule, no one elected to the Presidency is going to curtail the powers of the executive branch voluntarily.
If there were any hint that Romney and Ryan have a skeptical view of executive power and the executive’s authority to wage war without receiving Congressional authorization, Spengler might have a point. There isn’t any indication of this. On the contrary, neither objected to the illegality of the Libyan war, which both of them supported, and Romney is on the record saying that he believes he would have the authority as president to start a war with Iran without going to Congress. Even now, when they might hypocritically attack Obama on this point, they won’t do so. I suspect that’s because they genuinely aren’t interested in limiting the power of the executive or its ability to start wars. If that isn’t what Spengler means by preserving the republic, then the phrase really is just nothing but alarmist nonsense.
Spengler laments a “decline in patriotism,” but what he means by this is that Americans are less likely to endorse an idea of national superiority than they once were. Likewise, many Americans are less willing to endorse an understanding of American exceptionalism linked to political and military dominance. As Richard Gamble explained in a recent issue of TAC, this is the new triumphalist version of American exceptionalism. Gamble wrote:
Sumner also feared that the new exceptionalism—the belief that Americans were somehow secure from changing circumstances, immune to limits on power and resources, and exempt from the impact of war and empire on free institutions [bold mine--DL]—had seduced the public into believing that their prosperity, liberty, and security were inevitable blessings accruing to a special people, rather than the fragile products of abundant land, a small population, and benign neighbors. Once these circumstances changed, Americans would discover that “liberty and democracy” required hard work to sustain.
If that exceptionalism is losing its hold on the public, that would be good news. There is evidence that suggests the idea has a much weaker grasp on the youngest generations of Americans, but I wouldn’t be too quick to assume that this will directly translate into wiser policies or a healthier patriotism. In any case, a decline in triumphalist boasting does not mean that patriotism is in decline, and the fact that Spengler treats them as the same thing is significant. I am hopeful that normal, sane patriotism understood as love for and dedication to our own country is still quite strong despite the decades of distortion that the concept of patriotism has suffered.
As for nuclear weapons being in the hands of state sponsors of terrorism, that ship sailed many years ago. While Spengler is presumably referring to Iran, it’s worth pointing out that Pakistan and North Korea have both sponsored terrorist attacks in the past, and both now possess nuclear weapons. This is not an optimal or desirable state of affairs, but it has already been a reality for 14 and 6 years respectively. If Iran did acquire nuclear weapons, that would be undesirable but still manageable. It’s not true that a Romney or an Obama administration could successfully stop Iran from acquiring such weapons if Tehran insisted on having them, but it is unfortunately possible that either one would be foolish enough to start a war in a disastrous attempt to “prevent” an outcome that will be made more likely by attacking Iran. Such a war would do more to harm American interests and the global economy than anything else either candidate proposes doing.
America will survive another Obama term, just as it survived eight years of George W. Bush. Likewise, it could survive four or eight years of Romney if it came to that. This is not because any of these administrations have been or will be right in most of what they’re doing, but because America is not so fragile or pathetic that its survival can be seriously jeopardized by the mismanagement of its political class.