Absent-minded Americans

The Obama Depression has gone on so long we've forgotten what a healthy country is like.

One notable cultural aspect of Americans in general is that they tend to be pretty preoccupied with their own affairs.  This can be a good thing in that Americans tend to leave each other alone, but there is a down-side.  It takes an awful big shock to force Americans to pay attention to something they're not otherwise interested in, like politics.

This is a never-ending source of frustration to conservatives.  How can America not be furious at the death of an ambassador and the complete non-response of our government, as in Benghazi?  Well, that's a long way away in a foreign place we don't care about.

How about our government giving heavy weapons to known drug dealers and criminals, which they predictably ended up using to shoot American law enforcement (as well as a lot of Mexicans), as in the Fast and Furious scandal?  Well, who cares about Mexicans - and as for cops, we do care about them, but getting shot is part of the job and it was only one or two anyway.

How about Obama's shredding of the Constitution... and at this point, if everyone hasn't already walked away, it's only because their eyes have rolled back in their head as they fell into a stupor.

The plain fact seems to be that as long as it's not them personally getting shot, blown up, wrongfully imprisoned, or aborted, the vast majority of ordinary people couldn't care less about anything that goes on.  It's just human nature.

But wait!  How about The Economy?  After all, The Economy affects everyone - unless you're in the lucky 10%, you're probably struggling as prices go up and wages go down.  Surely that is a reason to be angry at our current regime?  And even all the power of the leftist media can't hide the fact that we're in the Obama Depression and have been for years?

Alas, no - because most ordinary people are not only preoccupied.  They're forgetful.

Night and the New Normal

Some of our older readers may recall the last few years of the 1970s, when Jimmy Carter was president.  Until very recently Carter was justifiably considered our worst modern president, and for good cause.  He oversaw a dysfunctional "stagflation" economy, which rewrote the economics textbooks by creating a condition previously thought to be impossible: high inflation and high unemployment.  The combination of these two numbers, which are directly impactful on every American, became the "misery index."

Not that long before, America's economy had been booming.  Sure there were the oil shocks, but mostly Ford and Nixon had decent economies and overseas successes.  Nixon in particular reopened China, and under Ford (for good or ill) the Vietnam War ended.  This at least made Americans feel better if not necessarily the Vietnamese.

Americans were not used to a stagnant economy and an administration which clearly had no clue what to do about it.  Americans were not used to diminishing power overseas, where tinpot dictators like the mullahs of Iran could take Americans captive and all the might of the United States could do nothing about it.  In a few short years, America had gone from the top of the world to what felt like the bottom.

So when Ronald Reagan promised what amounted to a return to the glory days, this appeal worked because most voters remembered that there was such a thing, and know they weren't enjoying them right now.

In contrast, America is suffering economically today as then.  But unlike then, we've had five years of the Obama depression with no end in sight.  And even prior to the economic crash of 2008, the economy was... well, OK, sort of.  It certainly wasn't great.

The last time America enjoyed anything resembling a boom was in the mid-1990s, which perhaps explains much of the nostalgia for Clinton.  Let's face it, for most Americans that Clinton years were pretty good, and everything since then has been worse or much worse, for nearly twenty years.  When it's been night for long enough, you kind of forget that there even is such a thing as day.

Infinitely Flexible Human Beings

It's been a long time since we've had a properly healthy economy - and one of the amazing attributes of humankind is its ability to adapt to almost anything.

History is loaded with examples of people who just got used to things they'd normally consider intolerable.  Across much of conquered Europe after World War II, thousands of starving widows who had spent their previous lives as solid middle-class housewives chose to prostitute themselves to their conquerors for a handful of bread.  It was that or die.

There's a story about an Italian prince who, dressed in his princely finery, visited the British commander of his Italian town and respectfully requested that his sister be accepted into a local whorehouse that serviced the Allies.  No doubt five years prior that would have been inconceivable - but in 1945, a whorehouse of that sort meant that his sister would be safe from most harm and be well-fed to boot.  Both the prince and princess were discouraged when the officer said this would not be possible.

In 1955, was the princess still a whore?  Certainly not, and most of the German hausfraus had hung up their fishnet stockings by then too, no doubt repressing the memories as best they could.  It was a terrible time in their lives but they got through it.

They got through it because of the Marshall Plan, where American aid rebuilt Europe almost as quickly as American bombs had destroyed it.  The people of Europe, for the most part, still remembered what they had been, and given the opportunity, worked hard to become wealthy again.

If Europe had stayed a pile of rubble, the whores would have stayed whores, and eventually that would have been their permanent life.  The danger in long-term depressions, which we now are experiencing in America, is that people forget that things can be better.  It becomes "the new normal" for there to be no such thing as raises, or for people to be out of work for years if they lose their job.

People get used to the idea that it's normal for government to hamstring business and jobs in every way it can.  What business is it of the government to demand that companies pay for their employees' abortions and birth control?  What business is it of your boss to be paying for your healthcare anyway?  But we've got used to it.

Morning?  What's That?

Reagan promised "morning in America", and it worked because a) people remembered what "morning" was, and b) by the time he was running for re-election, they could see the glimmerings of economic dawn.  Today, the media has been saying that everything is fine and this is the way things are supposed to be.  Everyone knows that things are far from fine, but if there's no other path pointed out to them, what can they do?

Well, is there another path?  Is there some other way than the suffocating statism of Barack Obama?  The Republicans certainly haven't been doing much towards pointing one out.  The Tea Party rightly calls for lower taxes, but that doesn't paint a very clear picture of a completely different path.

In fact, calling for lower taxes may be counterproductive.  For someone who has lost his job and has no serious hope of finding another one, "lower taxes" is code for "cutting my benefits and letting me starve."

Obviously (to conservatives) we need lower taxes, but what America really needs is something more profound.  We need an optimistic vision of the future and a plausible path to get there - with specifics, with breadth, with depth, and wherever possible an appeal to the almost-forgotten past.

In the 1970s, the media was leftist, but still had enough honesty to actually report stories that were bad for Jimmy Carter.  The Iran hostage crisis was covered; today, Benghazi and the IRS were covered up.  Jimmy Carter was ridiculed for being chased by a "killer rabbit"; Mr. Obama misspells "R-E-S-P-E-C-T," which was virtually the same gaffe that got Dan Quayle thrown out of public life, but in Obama's case it's not news fit to print.

Yes, that makes the job of conservatives harder, but in a way also easier.  Mr. Obama is not used to having to answer questions or watch his words because nobody asks him any hard questions or reports anything loony he might happen to say.  For all that we don't control the media, conservatives do have outlets and we have to do the job the media won't.  Eventually, something will break through.

But it won't accomplish anything if we aren't ready with a full-featured alternate vision for the country.  Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul - these leaders have elements of a vision, but not the whole thing.  Perhaps because it's been so long since conservatism has actually had a vision - since Reagan, in fact.

In order to wake up Americans and remind them what they've lost, first we need to know it ourselves, and be able to express it.  What's the point in remembering if you don't know what it is that you're trying to remember?

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments

Your on the right track Petrarch, don't stop!

April 1, 2014 9:41 PM

When Petrarch mentioned Nixon it reminded me once again that our country owes him an apology for running him out of office. He is a lightweight as far as scandals are concerned.

April 2, 2014 12:48 AM

They're still at it. They want Gov. Christie to resign over closing one lane of a bridge, and they give the O a pass on Benghazi, Fast and Furious, the IRS slamming conservatives, giving our money to Obama bundlers, and letting go the guy who threatened to beat up white voters.

It is all about politics. They're the evil party for what they do, we're stupid for not calling them on it.

April 2, 2014 7:18 AM
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