Making the right side of history
posted at 4:01 pm on May 12, 2012 by Karl
The idea pops up in Jonah Goldberg’s new book, The Tyranny of Clichés:
Goldberg *** explained that there “is a certain Marxist sting” to the cliché of being “on the right side of history.” It’s a way, he continued, of “saying to your opponents, ‘hey, look, you’re going to lose this argument eventually so you might as well quit now and stop complaining.’”
Indeed, Marx’s stages of history smack of this sort of determinism. Moreover, given his gig at National Review, it’s not surprising that Goldberg — by way of Burke — alludes to part of the magazine’s mission statement, in which William F. Buckley, Jr. famously proclaimed the mag “stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.”
At times, I run the risk of falling into an inversion of this cliché. Less than a week ago, I wrote:
The past century has been one in which progressives have put forth the idea that Soviet communism is what works, that Eurofascism is what works, that Maoism is what works, and that Eurosocialism is what works. The actual history of the past century is one in which Eurofascism was defeated in WWII, Soviet communism was defeated in the Cold War, Maoism has degenerated into a fascism and crony capitalism that only Tom Friedman finds attractive, and Eurosocialism is taking its own road to the dustbin of history. To be sure, voters in the UK and France are resisting, the Germans less so. But fiscal realities will continue to intrude, regardless of which governments they elect. They will eventually figure out what the OECD and IMF already have about the solution to their problems: spending less is the answer.
I am not for doing nothing about the debt ceiling and have written a number of pieces about the need to do something about the public debt at all levels of government. Moreover, it is certainly possible that in a debt crisis, the intransigence of the left could force the federal government to take a tax-heavy approach proven to fail in all those other OECD countries. I tend to think there is still enough of the American spirit around to resist becoming wage slaves to the state. Assuming we can manage to avoid a more statist approach than Canada, Sweden and Finland, it would seem the left ought to have the greater interest in defusing the debt bomb now, as a crisis will likely be tougher on their priorities.
Goldberg’s book, as much as the current political tensions in parts of the Eurozone, is a reminder that good policy choices do not make themselves. Indeed, Matt K. Lewis is very likely correct in declaring austerity “in and of itself,” a political loser today. Unfortunately, simply talking up economic growth is not only insufficient as a policy matter, but also too easily embraced as a political dodge of our debt problem.
History, like policy, does not make itself. One thing the right should grudgingly admire about the left is their relentlessness. The left never stops agitating, “educating” and organizing to push its version of history, even in the face of its evident failure over the past several decades. Excepting Walter Mondale, they rarely run on the promise of massive tax hikes for the middle class — but they never stop talking and writing about the future necessity for them. They never stop writing and talking about their dream of socialized healthcare — and take whatever jumps they can in that direction whenever they have sufficient control over the government.
Non-statists need to be equally relentless, both in pursuing our vision and in confronting the left’s vision. Indeed, non-statists should be even more driven, given the left’s effective control of the establishment media. This structural disadvantage makes our candidates even more important, because for all the of the media’s attempted agenda-setting, campaign coverage (and advertising) still necessarily focuses on the candidates and their messages.
Although I have had my share of problems with Mitt Romney, one of his primary virtues is that he frequently makes the point that Obama is leading America in the direction of Eurosocialism at precisely the moment Eurosocialism is imploding. It is my hope that when Team Obama starts its Mediscare campaign in earnest, Team Romney will lead its response by noting that the do-nothing Obama approach will also end Medicare as we know it — but that the likely result will be the non-innovative, rationed healthcare of Eurosocialism. Even when the left thinks it can put non-statists on defense, we should be working to create the environment in which statism is understood as not “what works,” more tax revenues are a small part of any solution to public debt (preferably from tax reform and consequent growth), and reform of the entitlement state is politically palatable. Many find Romney a weak standard-bearer for conservatism, but he has been willing to carry this banner — and it is a crucial one to carry, not only for this election, but for cycles to come.