Is the Obama Decline Irreversible?

At the Hoover Institution’s Defining Ideas, Victor Davis Hanson takes on that large question. He concludes that, while our problems are severe, they are by no means insuperable. Decline, therefore, is “a decision, not a destiny.” His essay is relatively lengthy and these excerpts can’t do it justice; you really should read it all:

The president himself is said to agree with observers such as Fareed Zakaria and Tom Friedman, who have often gleefully outlined the dimensions of what the inevitable post-American world would look like. At times environmentalists, internationalists, and progressives even welcome such an envisioned new role for the United States–its reduced global profile will be a sort of bookend to a lower carbon footprint at home that would come with a reduced American lifestyle, greater government regulations, cap-and-trade legislation, more taxes, and higher energy prices. We would become an equality of results society at home, and not particularly distinguishable from many nations abroad. …
[T]here is little historical evidence that any nation’s downturn was predicated on an inevitable set of political, economic, military, or cultural circumstances. There was no reason that Athens at 338 B.C. needed to lose to Philip of Macedon at the battle of Chaironeia, or even that the loss there meant the end of the freedom of the Greek city-states. Macedonian forces were a fraction of the size of a far larger Persian force that had swept down from the north into a far weaker Athens a century-and-half-earlier in 480 BC, and were soundly defeated. In terms of culture, no law in stone decreed that drama of the quality of the Orestia, Oedipus, Ajax, Bacchae, and Medea had to give way to the lesser sitcoms of Middle and New comedy of the fourth century BC. Complacency and collective loss of confidence, brought on by affluence, leisure, and poor leadership far better explain retrenchment than environmental catastrophe, foreign invasion, or financial implosion–the latter are all symptomatic of societies that have lost the confidence to respond to natural and manmade challenges. …
And why did a bombed out Frankfurt and Tokyo (200,000 incinerated in March 1945 alone) rather quickly out-produce a less damaged Liverpool (4,000 killed in the blitz) or another former industrial hub at Manchester? Between 1945-1949, the United Kingdom chose a path of deliberate retrenchment, redistributive large government, high taxes, and socialism that a once flattened, and suddenly desperate Germany and Japan did not.

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By every benchmark, this present age should be an American century, here and abroad. Our known fossil fuel reserves are soaring. New finds of coal, natural gas, oil, tar sands, and oil shale keep growing, not declining. Demographically, we are expanding. In comparison, Europe, Japan, and China are shrinking, unsure of how to address an aging population, single-child families, and scores of unassimilated immigrants. …
Energy. Known reserves of natural gas just keep getting larger. The amount of oil in the Dakotas, in Texas, in Alaska, and offshore climbs too, even as cars are getting more efficient and new hybrids become more practical. There is enough natural gas (and its derivatives) to quite easily power a quarter of our fleet for a century or more. Should Americans have a president who wished to drill, utilize natural gas as a transportation fuel, and downplay subsidizing “millions of green jobs,” the nation could do wonders on the energy front. Each barrel produced here rather than imported from Saudi Arabia means more money, more jobs, and enhanced national security. Asking other governments to pump more oil, whether Brazil or Saudi Arabia, even as we insist that drilling and supply have no effect on prices, shows that Americans prefer to become more indebted and dependent. Again, that is a choice, not a fate. …
We may well decline, and pass on a weaker, more divided, more insolvent and at-risk America to our children. But that is entirely our volition, not our destiny. It is a decision that many prosperous, but tired and squabbling societies–4th-century BC Athens, 5th-century AD Rome, 1950s Britain, 1970s America–chose willingly when they redistributed rather than created wealth, embraced envy rather than emulation of success as their collective creed, and whined about not being liked rather than unapologetically assuming leadership in the world.

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