A Mid­dle Amer­i­can up­ris­ing brings new blood

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

The winds of change are blow­ing. A po­lit­i­cal re­bel­lion is brew­ing. The 2012 Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion is tak­ing place within his­toric times: the de­cline and fall of big-gov­ern­ment lib­er­al­ism. Pres­i­dent Obama’s at­tempt to transform Amer­ica is fi­nally cre­at­ing a pow­er­ful back­lash.

The Obama pres­i­dency lies in rub­ble; fail­ure has been its defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic. The coun­try is fac­ing an eco­nomic cri­sis. Un­em­ploy­ment is high. Growth is ane­mic. Gas prices are sky-high. Amer­ica is chok­ing on its debt. We are bogged down in three failed wars. Mr. Obama’s pop­u­lar­ity is plum­met­ing. The lib­eral regime — once dom­i­nant — is tot­ter­ing.

For months, many GOP vot­ers have not been en­thu­si­as­tic about the cur­rent crop of can­di­dates be­cause none of them seem able to ad­dress the dan­gers con­fronting Amer­ica. Newt Gingrich, Tim Paw­lenty, Rick San­to­rum, Jon Hunts­man Jr. — they are con­ven­tional Repub­li­cans with es­tab­lish­ment ideas. The pre­sump­tive fron­trun­ner is for­mer Gov. Mitt Rom­ney. His sup­port may be wide, but it’s thin. His flip-flops on ho­mo­sex­ual mar­riage and abor­tion, de­fense of Rom­n­ey­care (uni­ver­sal health care in Mas­sachusetts) and wa­tered­down in­ter­na­tion­al­ism in for­eign af­fairs make him vul­ner­a­ble to an in­sur­gent chal­lenger.

Yet, at last, the Repub­li­can race is heat­ing up with two ris­ing stars. The dark horse is Rep. Michele Bach­mann of Min­nesota. She clearly won the de­bate in New Hamp­shire. Mrs. Bach­mann is ar­tic­u­late, tele­genic and feisty. She is a pop­ulist con­ser­va­tive who cham­pi­ons God, coun­try and fam­ily. She is closely aligned with the Tea Party move­ment, and is se­ri­ous about slash­ing deficits and con­trol­ling spend­ing. She is a de­vout Chris­tian, who is staunchly pro-life, pro­fam­ily and pro-gun rights. More­over, Mrs. Bach­mann is a na­tion­al­ist in for­eign pol­icy. She op­poses the Libyan in­ter­ven­tion, rightly de­mand­ing that con­sti­tu­tional checks and bal­ances be reim­posed upon Mr. Obama’s war-mak­ing pow­ers. With the ex­cep­tion of Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, she has the best grasp of one sem­i­nal re­al­ity: Amer­ica can no longer af­ford the wel­fare-war­fare state. The era of nation-build­ing and global demo­cratic revo­lu­tion is over.

Mrs. Bach­mann is more than a Sarah Palin clone. On do­mes­tic pol­icy, the Min­nesota Repub­li­can is more sub­stan­tive; on for­eign pol­icy, she is more se­ri­ous; and most im­por­tantly, she has much lower neg­a­tive rat­ings — es­pe­cially among in­de­pen­dents. Mrs. Palin (should she run) may be able to win the GOP nom­i­na­tion. The pres­i­dency, how­ever, is a bridge too far. The me­dia will evis­cer­ate her. Out­side of her in­tense base, she is de­spised and dis­trusted. She per­son­i­fies the cheap pol­i­tics of celebrity. Mrs. Bach­mann is the op­po­site: a re­lent­less en­emy of cul­tural lib­er­al­ism, who can forge a di­verse pop­ulist coali­tion. She ap­peals to the vast mid­dle of Amer­ica. Her cam­paign has the po­ten­tial to tap into the coun­try’s pro­found alien­ation from Wash­ing­ton. And thus, she is surg­ing in the polls.

The other po­ten­tial ma­jor can­di­date is Texas Gov. Rick Perry. His top aides are sig­nal­ing that he is clearly think­ing about run­ning. If he does, Mr. Perry would sky­rocket to the top of the heap, smash­ing most of his GOP ri­vals — in­clud­ing Mr. Rom­ney. He is the an­tiRom­ney — an au­then­tic Texan, who has a long record of achieve­ment and proven con­ser­va­tive gov­er­nance. Mr. Rom­ney talks a good game; Mr. Perry ac­tu­ally plays one. The rap against Mr. Perry is that he looks and sounds too much like for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush.

Yet, Mr. Perry has one trump card: Texas. Un­der his lead­er­ship, the econ­omy has boomed. As the coun­try re­mains mired in a deep re­ces­sion, Texas is grow­ing. It has cre­ated more pri­vate-sec­tor jobs than any other state.

He has reined in pub­lic spend­ing, re­stored fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity, re­moved reg­u­la­tory red tape, main­tained flex­i­ble la­bor mar­kets and stood up to the unions. There is no state in­come tax. He is a real Rea­gan­ite. He has com­bined progrowth poli­cies with flinty so­cial con­ser­vatism.

On a range of eco­nomic and reg­u­la­tory is­sues, Mr. Perry has di­rectly chal­lenged Wash­ing­ton’s over­reach and in­com­pe­tence.

Both Mrs. Bach­mann and Mr. Perry sig­nify a new de­vel­op­ment in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics: the rise of na­tion­al­ist pop­ulism. For decades, lib­er­al­ism has been as­cen­dant. The New Deal erected an en­ti­tle­ment state and brought to power a lib­eral rul­ing class — what the con­ser­va­tive philoso­pher James Burn­ham called “the man­age­rial class.” Gov­ern­ment agen­cies, the per­ma­nent bu­reau­cra­cies, the main­stream me­dia, uni­ver­si­ties, pub­lic schools, Hol­ly­wood, the arts, trial lawyers, the Fed­eral Re­serve, big banks and large fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions — they have all helped to sus­tain the pro­gres­sive pro­ject of turn­ing Amer­ica into a root­less so­cial democ­racy.

For a while, it seemed to work. Peace and pros­per­ity en­sured that any ide­o­log­i­cal as­sault on lib­eral hege­mony could be con­tained — and even­tu­ally marginal­ized. Now, how­ever, Mr. Obama’s mis­rule, com­bined with the grow­ing eco­nomic chaos, threat­ens the very moral le­git­i­macy of our lib­eral min­ders. They can no longer be be­lieved or trusted.

Lib­er­al­ism is in cri­sis. And as the regime cracks, in­sur­gent pop­ulists are start­ing to fill the void. Mid­dle Amer­ica is on the march.

Jef­frey T. Kuh­ner is a colum­nist at The Wash­ing­ton Times and pres­i­dent of the Ed­mund Burke In­sti­tute.

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