What does it mean?

On Tuesday night, Americans reelected a president despite the facts that they’re less secure 1) economically (high unemployment, anemic economic growth, an unsustainable debt burden…), 2) domestically (violent crime on the rise for the first time in 20 years, a virtual surrender in what once was a war on drugs, a Justice Department that hands guns out to the bad guys…); and 3) globally (violence erupting across the Middle East including the murders of an Ambassador and three others, Iran on the verge of achieving nuclear-weapons capability, porous borders inviting those who wish us harm to cross and kill our border guards with guns provided by us…) than they were four years ago. A lot’s gone wrong in the last four years, yet Americans still reelected the man who presided over all of it. So, what does it mean?

I’m afraid it means, sadly, that America has turned a corner. There are now more Americans riding in the proverbial “cart of state” than helping to pull it, and in their short-term zeal for a free ride (e.g. “free” health care, perpetual unemployment benefits, unconditional “welfare” payments, …), the riders therein have deluded themselves into thinking that there can be an ever-growing number of riders, an ever-shrinking number of pullers, and yet, somehow, the cart will keep moving forward. It won’t. Just as Ayn Rand illustrated brilliantly in Atlas Shrugged, it’ll slow, and eventually, it’ll stop. (I disagree with Rand to varying degrees about God, voluntary altruism, and the pursuit of “happiness” as an end in itself, but she was dead right about the road our cart of state is on, and I recommend her literary masterpiece highly.)

In the coming years, America will no longer be able to sustain its current level of government spending. Austerity will happen. I had hoped that it could happen gradually, on our terms, but now, it’s looking more likely that it’ll happen abruptly, on our creditors’ terms, when we’re no longer able to attract lenders at payable rates of interest and we’ve devalued our currency to the point of near worthlessness (i.e. when we’re where Greece is now). In that environment, not only will people have hard times finding jobs here at home – resulting in, among other bad things, more crime – but we, as a country, will also have a hard time funding the projection of military power that a free world requires in, for example, the inevitable case of either an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities (potentially sparking a conflagration in the Middle East) or a nuclear-armed Iran. Health care won’t get better, more plentiful, and cheaper – it’ll get worse, rationed, and more expensive – and more individual freedoms (e.g. the freedom to purchase a soda in the size of your choice) will be curtailed in the name of containing health-care costs. And health care won’t be the only industry to deteriorate – so will heavy industry, along with the national infrastructure that it supports, along with transportation and agribusiness.

Why don’t more than half of Americans see that they’re riding in a cart that has steadily ascended a steep uphill slope over the past 236 years but is now slowing down and in danger of rolling backwards in runaway fashion to a catastrophic crash when the burdens it carries finally overwhelm the productivity of its pullers? Well, the average I.Q. of Americans is 100. To give you some context for that, I’d estimate that “Goober” from the “Andy Griffith Show” and “Woody” from “Cheers” exhibited I.Q.’s right around 100. Does this mean many Americans aren’t smart enough to discern and to put what’s in their long-term interests ahead of what’s (perhaps) in their short-term interests? No, but it means many aren’t likely to engage in those kinds of intellectual discernment and self-discipline unassisted. They need public policy that incentivizes productivity, but more than that, they need education, moral education, to help them eschew and shed pervasive entitlement attitudes, plus practical education to help them understand how America became a great nation in the first place. Americans simply aren’t getting it.

And perhaps the most frustrating and saddest thing for me is that a majority of Americans today don’t really seem to care what happens to our cart of state eventually as long as they’re comfortable in it today. They seem more interested in watching “Honey Boo-Boo” than in the potential for our cart to crash over a steep “fiscal cliff,” or in the potential to wake up one morning soon to television footage of a smoldering Middle East (or worse – more smoldering buildings here at home), or in the potential to be told that an expensive health-care procedure isn’t “justified” by its potential to enrich or extend their waning lives.

For years now, I’ve tried to use the synthesis of all that I’ve learned about people, policy, and productivity to help Americans understand how we can best live together in this great nation of ours, but lately, it feels like trying to persuade apathetic riders to help me throw buckets of water on their burning cart. I’ve shared my frustration and heard it reflected in conversations with conservative public servants at both the national and local levels. At what point do we throw up our hands, stop spending our time trying to help people who won’t help themselves, and just sip the cool water with a twist of lemon as the cart burns? But it’s not as simple as that because it’s our cart, too – we’ve inherited it from previous generations of Americans whose work ethic and craftsmanship we respect; we’ve labored on it since; and the thought of it burning sickens us.

My profound fear is that, at some point, it becomes unsalvageable; it’ll have to burn to the ground – fueled perhaps by disaffected, firebomb-throwing rioters, like those in the streets of Greece, and/or by a nuclear 9/11-style attack on our financially-distracted/disarmed homeland – and to then be rebuilt from the ground up, hopefully by those pullers among us who weren’t immolated. And if that’s the necessary progression of things, then perhaps the outcome of the 2012 election will simply serve as an accelerant of it. Perhaps if President Obama had been defeated, President Romney would simply have been the last president to successfully, temporarily, suppress the flames of entitlement and apathy that threaten to engulf America, merely delaying an inevitable inferno for another four or eight years.

That’s what I fear, but have I given up on America? No. I still believe that we have a chance to salvage it – to put out the fire, to regain our traction, and to ultimately get back on our once-steady uphill climb. But it’s not going to be easy, and it’s not going to be quick. If in fact it can be done, I believe that extinguishing the flames of entitlement and apathy will have to happen generationally, educationally, starting in families committed to teaching their children the values that made America great and continuing in schools committed to teaching their students the practices and policies that made America great.

So, as you continue to hear me harp on the importance of legally and morally intact families in the coming years, you’ll probably also hear me focus in on school choice as among the most, if not the most, important of public policies to be advanced. The kind of education that America’s children need about its greatness isn’t likely to come from subsidiaries of the very government that seeks to sustain itself at any cost to the governed, but if they’re widely able to get it elsewhere, in the space of a generation or so, they just might be able and willing to help us salvage what remains of our cart of state (and fortunately, I believe there’s potential to build some degree of bipartisan support for school choice as well as potential for progress to be made toward school choice at the state level). And as always, you’ll hear me articulate my case clearly, accurately, passionately, and intellectually (i.e. appealing always to logic, never to a belief system that my listeners/readers may not share). These are skills that conservative politicians must learn if they’re to suppress the kindling of America long enough for a renewed emphasis on education to manifest itself at the ballot box (I’m available for tutoring).

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