Where Are We Now?

That’s the open-ended title of the panel I spoke on last weekend at the West Coast Retreat of the David Horowitz Freedom Center (and special thanks to all of the Power Line readers in the audience who introduced themselves). Where do you go with such a wide-ranging title? I spoke from a few short notes that I scratched out the night before (which I have now lost), but I think it went pretty much something like this:

I’m not going to talk about the election, partly because so much of what I have said up to this point, especially about Trump’s prospects, have turned out to be wrong. Instead I think this panel’s title—Where Are We Now?—begs for taking a step back and looking at some longer term factors that overshadow the election, no matter who wins.

Lately I’ve been thinking of two sayings by foreigners—one probably familiar to most everyone, and one likely not. The first is Bismarck’s famous quip that “God looks after drunks, fools, and the United States of America.” I’m hoping this is still true. To the extent that accident and chance play a huge role in determining political life (the teaching of the classics), I think we’d have to say that America has been pretty lucky though most of its history. Thank God it was Harry Truman, and not Henry Wallace, who was vice president in April 1945 when FDR died; Truman was far from perfect, but he was right on a lot of important questions at that important moment.

The second saying comes from my late Hungarian-born friend Peter Schramm. Peter grew up under Communism, and when the Soviet tanks rolled through the country in 1956, his father said—“That’s it: we’re going to America.” “Why are we going to America, dad?” “Because, son, we were born American, just in the wrong place.” That was back at a time when people around the world understood clearly what America meant. I’m not so sure it is as clear to the world any more just what America means, or what it stands for, let alone whether it can be counted upon to defend the West.

Anyway, Peter told me that a favorite Hungarian saying is, “Things are serious—but not yet bad!” Now, I’m starting to think that things are bad. It is likely possible to recover from eight years of Obama with the right leadership, but if Obama is succeeded by Clinton or Sanders—or by a clueless Republican—the damage might be so long-lasting as to be near-irreversible.

A few observations:

First, events of just the last 10 days should remind us once again that our politics have become all out war—a fact that conservatives, and their weak vessel, the Republican Party, do not like to recognize. Conservatives like order and moderation (in the Aristotelian sense), and recoil from the idea of political warfare, because when things reach that stage, it means things are out of hand. But avoiding the unpleasantness of political life—and avoiding confronting it directly—will not make it go away, but instead guarantee that it will grow worse.

One lesson of the Trump phenomenon is that it has revealed that conservatives have been way too timid or conciliatory in confronting the Left—that the latitude for effectively confronting political correctness is much greater than we thought. It ought to be a matter of supreme embarrassment and shame that the most forceful and cogent response to the irresponsible demagoguery of Black Lives Matter has come from Bill Clinton. Never mind that he walked it back yesterday—that’s his problem. Our problem is no public figure on our side has spoken out as forcefully and as plainly as Clinton did.

In this regard, if we can’t win the Bathroom Wars, we might as well load up the lifeboats right now and become the refugees from our own country that the Left longs for us to be. And the most outrageous part of the recent controversy over bathrooms in North Carolina is the role played by big business, which is the most potent force in coercing states like North Carolina to back down from a common sense understanding of human nature. Why have big corporations become adjuncts to leftist identity politics? I suspect a study of corporate HR departments will find they are a hotbed of graduates with degrees in gender and ethnic studies, etc.

About Congress, I will just say that for those who have been critical of Republican leadership over the last few years, the problem is deeper and worse than you think. This is a long subject, having to do with the way in which the Democratic Party deliberately sought over decades to degrade the constitutional role of Congress in ways that many Republican members of Congress do not understand or perceive clearly enough. And it is going to take more than just a Republican president to fix this problem, though I think Ted Cruz understands this issue more profoundly than most of the rest of the GOP presidential field. But this is a very long subject, worthy of a separate complete panel all by itself.

Likewise, our response to the latest outbreak of radicalism on campuses is weak. The new mob of the campus Left says: racism, homophobia, sexism, oppression, and patriarchy. To which we have responded—free speech and academic freedom! This response is wholly inadequate. It concedes the premise of the Left: are we really for free speech on behalf of racism? Of course not, but we need to take the next step and throw back in their faces that their narratives of oppression are completely wrong, contemptible, and not to be taken seriously. That and a few expulsions (and more firings of many more professors like Melissa Click) might do the trick.

In summary, the central point of my remarks is to vindicate what I’m going to call the Horowitz Heuristic, or “David’s Desideratum.” For as long as I have known David, he has been saying that conservatives, and their defective organizational vehicle—the Republican Party—have not been vigorous enough in recognizing that the Left is conducting political warfare, and that it can only be beaten back by engaging in political warfare in return. Maybe a few more people are starting to figure out what David has understood all along. Is it too late? As Lincoln said about a real shooting war, “Wars are not won by blowing rosewater through cornstalks.”