2014: Year of Decision

Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, a Research Fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution, and a Professor of Classics and Humanities at the California State University. He is the author of nine books and numerous essays on classical culture and its influence on Western Civilization. His most recent book, Democracy's Dangers and Discontents (Hoover Institution Press), is now available for purchase.


lkThis year we will see if America is still a center-right country, or if Obama’s two terms will mark a historic shift to the left. History and recent events give cause for optimism, subject, of course, to unforeseen events.

The champions of big government, wealth redistribution through taxation and entitlement transfers, and a coercive, intrusive regulatory regime have many times exaggerated the death of conservatism and the final victory of progressivism. Remember this famous pronouncement by culture critic Lionel Trilling in 1950? “In the United States at this time Liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition. For it is the plain fact that nowadays there are no conservative or reactionary ideas in general circulation . . . But the conservative impulse and the reactionary impulse do not, with some isolated and some ecclesiastical exceptions, express themselves in ideas but only in action or in irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.” Even as Trilling wrote those words, the work of Russell Kirk, F.A. Hayek, Richard Weaver, Whittaker Chambers, William F. Buckley, and many others were developing a powerful conservative philosophy that would bear fruit in the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Or those of a certain age can remember the triumphalism of the left after the disgrace of Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974, which was followed a year later by the debacle in Saigon and the seeming repudiation of the conservative view of America’s role as the defender of freedom against communist expansion. But the incompetence and naïve idealism of Jimmy Carter’s four years as president quickly made plain the deep flaws of the progressive ideology, as stagflation at home and foreign policy retreat abroad taught us once again that the utopian fever dreams of the progressives threatened our prosperity and endangered our security. The failure of the Carter presidency created the conditions favorable to conservative ideas, and galvanized a people receptive to the philosophy of prudence, self-reliance, and the Constitutional principle of limited government.

The last 54 months of the Obama regime and its rampant progressivism cannot obscure the epochal shift away from the big government doctrines of tax-and-spend and top-down social engineering, the sea change achieved during the Reagan years. Even Bill Clinton admitted that “the days of big government are over,” signed welfare reform into law, and tread carefully on the issue of raising taxes. The giddy progressives’ celebrations in 2010 over the passage of Obamacare, despite the obvious distaste for it among the people, deluded many into thinking the tide had turned yet again in favor of the progressives, and away from even the “third way” of Clintonian liberalism. But the rise of the Tea Party and the rambunctious town-hall meetings the following summer rudely awakened the pipe-dreaming Democrats, and reminded them that there are still millions of Americans who treasure their birthright of freedom and autonomy, and resent an overweening nanny state. The midterm election that year gave the House to the Republicans, and slowed if not stopped the fulfillment of the rest of the progressive wish-list such as amnesty for illegal aliens, punitive tax hikes, and even more Keynesian “stimulus” voodoo.

This history suggests that we may see in 2014 a further shift away from progressivism, for several reasons. The rank incompetence, arrogance, and juvenile narcissism of Obama more and more confirm that his election was not about progressive ideas, but about a misguided yearning for racial reconciliation, and a naïve attempt to lay to rest the ghosts of America’s racist past. We are unlikely to see a similar mistake in the future, particularly since the wages of voting for any reason other than principle and competence have been made painfully clear in the dangerous American retreat abroad, and the economic malfeasance here at home.

And that brings us to the next reason for optimism: the continuing disaster of Obamacare, which promises to be for conservatives the gift that keeps on giving. All the problems plaguing this ill-conceived, reckless legislation––escalating health-care costs, more people losing health care than gaining it, the narrowing of doctor and hospital choice for those who do get coverage, and the promise of exploding government spending to keep the whole contraption functioning––are likely to worsen rather than improve. Those failures and disasters will be a constant reminder of everything that is wrong with the progressive ideology, particularly its arrogant notion that a superior elite of technocrats are better able to organize social and economic life than are individuals, families, civil society, local government, state government, or the free market. They will remind Americans that self-reliance and personal freedom are written in our DNA, that most of us are like Huck Finn, apt to resent every progressive Widow Douglas and Miss Watson trying to coerce us into her idea of being “civilized.”

Other signs of change are in the air. The clumsy, craven, and failed response of the A&E network to some comments by “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson––a modern Huck Finn if ever there was one–– is a rude reminder that if you are a for-profit enterprise in America, it doesn’t do to alienate your customers just to curry favor with a minority of self-selected commissars of virtue whose intolerance and preening self-righteousness would make an old Puritan patriarch blush. This episode may be transient, but it also may be the harbinger of a growing recognition on the part of conservatives and libertarians that they are not a minority, and that their patronage should not be taken for granted. More attempts by special interest groups and businesses to stifle dissent and impose politically correct orthodoxy may be sparks that along with the failures of Obamacare kindle a nation-wide uprising against the statist status quo like the one we witnessed in the summer of 2010.

Finally, even the mainstream media, long a reliable lapdog for the administration, have had to confront the swelling tide of change. A new CNN (sic!) poll shows Republicans leading Democrats in the generic ballot 49% to 44%, a 13-point swing over the last two months. Only 22% of Democrats are extremely or very enthusiastic about voting next November, while 36% of Republicans are. And 55% of voters say they are more likely to vote for a candidate who opposes Obama, compared to 40% who would favor a candidate who supports him. And Senate Democrats in the Senate are vulnerable. According to National Journal, 13 of 15 seats likely to switch parties are held by Democrats, as are all 7 seats most likely to switch. If the Republicans take 6 of those 7, they will take back control of the Senate, and be able to stand athwart Obama’s second-term agenda yelling Stop.

We’ll see. Prudence is a conservative virtue, and November is far away. But if history is any guide, if Obamacare continues its slow-motion implosion, if the progressive Nurse Ratcheds keep trying to make us swallow their toxic intolerance, and if conservatives stiffen their spines, they stand a good chance of slowing down the progressive agenda.

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  • Jagatheesan Chandrasekharan

    5) اللغة العربية الفصحى

    البديل الوحيد وأمل الأمة هو فيل BSP!
    الناس ليست سوى FED UP مع الكونغرس، أطراف إقليمية أخرى وحزب بهاراتيا جاناتا!
    ومن هنا لالتقاط مفتاح MASTER!
    شعب بأكمله HAVE TO توقظ مع الوعي!
    FOR THEIR الرفاه والسعادة والسلام!
    GOAL AS نهائي إلى إقرار الأبدية بليس!
    الحصول على استعداد لاظهار تقدم في تعزيز قاعدة BSP وبين “سارف ساماج” والاستعداد ل”Savadhan فيشال مها رالي” المقرر عقده في 15 يناير كانون الثاني.

    • tommo2

      Translated from Arabic:

      The only alternative is the hope of the nation and Phil BSP!
      People are just FED UP with Congress, other regional parties and BJP!
      It is here to pick up the key MASTER!
      Entire people HAVE TO awaken with awareness!
      FOR THEIR well-being, happiness and peace!
      GOAL AS to the final approval of eternal bliss!
      Get ready to show progress in strengthening the base between the BSP and “Surf Samaj” and prepare for “Savadhan Vishal Maha Rally” to be held on January 15 in January.

    • celador2

      Write in English since that is our language.

    • ColoursFed

      Bring it on! We will welcome it, and this time around will be the END of you people. We have the strength of Richard and Longshank’s, but this time we will give you all no quarter.

  • Jakareh

    “if Republicans stiffen their spines, we stand a good chance of slowing down the progressive agenda.”

    It’s not enough merely to slow down the progressive agenda. It should be torn page to page, burned, and the ashes thrown in the dustbin of history. Its proponents should be discredited and punished.

    • Marcus Demetrius

      Agree. But the way is anything but easy. Every step we make will be attacked and undermined by the ultraleft, dominant media, the school system, and enforcement arms of the gov’t. It is we who will be the first five crucified. Watch and see how quickly the resolve disappears when the hammers and nails are exposed.

      • stephencarter

        Call them out to their faces, be relentless. They count on conservative politeness. Don’t give it to them. Be in their face 24/7, but we can do that cheerfully, in good humor, without shame or remorse or embarrassment. They’re the ones destroying the country to achieve a twisted Marxist dystopian false ideal. Call them what they are: racists, sexists, hypocrites, slanderers, liars. Don’t mince words. Call em what they are. Over & over. With the proof each time. They count on us being depressed & despairing so they can continue their destruction. Fight them every inch, we can be happy warriors in a fight worth fighting.

      • Jakareh

        I agree. It’s easy for them to crucify us because the system is rigged against us those of us who want to America to be a free country. That’s why I believe the system will be overthrown. George Washington and the other Founding Fathers overthrew the system they lived under.

  • kilfincelt

    If the Republicans do take back the Senate, maybe we can impeach Obama and Holder. We can only hope!

    • keithbreedlove

      Only if they have 61 votes. If they don’t, we’ll have continuing gridlock as he vetoes anything that does not fit his agenda, and then pin the blame on Republicans for not being willing to compromise. But, and this is a big BUT, Republican Establishment and Tea Party conservatives HAVE to stop their fighting. There is a place for principles (Tea Party) while still being practical (Establishment), and being pragmatic (Establishment) does not mean that you need to abandon core principles (Tea Party).

  • celador2

    If conservatives make no gains in 2014 democrats have a pres. year GOTV advantage 2016. Christianity has taken a hit as judicial usurpation overturned DOMA and imposed gay marriage across the nation as one example of big gains for tyranny and liberalism.
    Now Ds will put on ballot minimum wage and Hilary calls fro reinstate unemployment subsidies as an entitlement.
    Its may be over if we do not win a few elections at national level. Since 2010 its been going downhill.

    • carpe diem 36

      eventually human nature will prevail. progressives think that they can ignore human nature and force their mistaken ideas on people. even while obama and his allies are pushing their “progressive” (sic) agenda the economy is improving, the stock market has achieved record numbers, businesses are flourishing and oil is being produced in record quantities in spite of, not because, of progressives. people will work hard, maybe harder in order to overcome the horrible obstacles gov’t is putting in front of them. human nature eventually will triumph .

  • Antisharia

    I hate to say it, but this isn’t a center right country. Conservatives,no matter what name they go by, are usually the minority. If we weren’t Obama wouldn’t be president and Harry Reid wouldn’t be in charge of the senate. We have socialism,because disgusting as it is, a slight majority of Americans want it. They might not want obamacare but they like all the other redistribution schemes, like welfare, social security and Medicare. 2010 wasn’t the beginning of a trend , it was a speed bump on the socialist highway. There is no fixing this mess, the left has ruined things beyond repair. The only chance is for conservatives to secede, but no one has the guts for it so we’re probably going to have to learn to love big brother.

    • TheOrdinaryMan

      You say “there is no fixing this mess,” but 17 states have voted down Common Core, and 36 states are not assisting in implementing the Obamacare exchanges. We may not be a majority center-right country, but if we can keep Texas in the “Red” column, keep GOP control of the House, and defeat Harry Reid in the Senate, we have a fair chance of undoing much of the damage Obama & the Democrats have wrought.

      • antisharia

        Give it ten years and Texas will be as blue as New York, California, or Illinois. The left started about 50 years ago with the idea of remaking the country in their image, and if they couldn’t persuade the American voters then they would just find themselves some new voters. That’s why we have 15 million illegal immigrants in this country and they are all behind Obama and his unconstitutional regime. Soon Texas, Arizona, and even Utah will be voting Democrat because of the Hispanic invasion. The GOP will be confined to the deep south unless we strike now. There is no saving this country. Time to abandon ship and start over.

    • Ray Burke

      I pray you are wrong.

  • William James Ward

    Independent conservative voters must push forward candidates to
    displace the RHINO’S in government, they are known to vote with the
    Democrats as they are their shills and helpers in destroying rule by
    the people. Self government is a discipline that many Americans do
    not understand and responsibility for one’s self forgotten due tot he
    abysmal educational system squarely in the hands of leftist traitors.
    Communism, Socialism, Leftism and Islam must be put down in
    America and the movement to do so is starting in the voting booth.
    Those who do not vote give the miserable thieves and liars our
    Nation to destroy personal freedom and regulate America out of
    existence as we have known it. Get out the conservative vote
    as it is all that is going to save America from disintegration.
    William

  • NAHALKIDES

    Thornton’s analysis is basically level-headed, but I feel I must point out the greatest obstacle to victory in 2014 and 2016 – the Republican Establishment. This group of office-seekers, which has suicidally declared war on its own base and equally suicidally is pursuing an amnesty for 10 – 30 million immigrants which would grant the Democrats a permanent hammerlock on power, can still lose it all for us. Observe how rather than pummel the Democrats over Obamacare and the bad economy, they are simply sitting on the sidelines and assuming victory will automatically follow. This was basically Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign strategy – “the other side has screwed up, so obviously you should give me a shot” – did not work very well, and probably won’t be enough in 2016 although it’s just possible the GOP could take the Senate with it in 2014.

    • JDinSTL

      Republicans could make a strong case against Obama’s crony capitalist agenda – if they didn’t share it.

      • NAHALKIDES

        Indeed.

  • Ray – Jesus is the Son of God.

    This video is approximately 58 minutes long….

    Would you like to learn more about Obama and those who helped
    to place him into power? If so, please watch this and please share it
    with those on your email list. Raymond

    https://youtube.googleapis.com/v/vFDwtCSfuJI%26hl=en_US%26fs=1

    • ColoursFed

      Obama is anti Christ, like his supporters are, the same is happening in the UK, with Cameron and Clegg. Waiting in the side lane, to be the next despot of the UK, is the scum Marxist Milliband, who is a Jew, who lied about his father fighting the Germans “how can someone make all that wealth when at sea fighting a war”? It is illegal for this man to become our next PM!

  • http://www.clarespark.com/ Clare Spark

    Some of the comments here are despairing or at least pessimistic. I would prefer a “can do” attitude that acknowledges the necessary give and take of a political coalition. See http://clarespark.com/2012/04/06/diagnosing-potus/. “Diagnosing POTUS” is a warning about ignoring the incoherence of the Democratic base. I would start there and focus on weening away Independents from the social democratic Left.

    • unionville

      I was very optimistic going into the 2012 presidential election and I had the optimism smacked out of me by the stupidity of the American electorate when they re-elected one of the most incompetent, dishonest men to hold the office of president. And the fact that we basically kept the status quo in congress. I will continue to vote for the most conservative candidate, but I think there are now more people who prefer a larger safety net rather than the personal freedom to make their own choices in a free market economy. I hope I’m wrong.

      • JDinSTL

        The Republicans gave them nothing to vote “for”

        Even Romney admits he would not have repealed ObamaCare

        • unionville

          Romney did an interview with Hugh Hewitt a several months before the election to put to bed the notion that he was not intent on repealing Obamacare.

          “Well of course I’m going to repeal Obamacare,” Romney told the conservative radio host on Monday. “I’ve said that on the campaign trail, I think, every single day. Obamacare must be repealed –- in its entirety. It’s bad policy, it’s bad law, and frankly, a $2 trillion entitlement we don’t want and we certainly can’t afford. I have my own health care plan, and it does not require Obamacare to make our health care system work better. Obamacare is a disaster in my opinion, and has to be repealed entirely.”

          • JDinSTL

            In the interviews following the election, he has admitted that he would not have repealed the law, but would have “fixed it”. Just what we always thought.

          • unionville

            Do you have a source? The interviews I have seen indicate that he would still have repealed it, but would have replaced it with his own plan. Those plans would have kept the pre-existing provision and allow children to stay on their parents plans until 26. While I don’t agree with any plan that has those provisions, (actually I believe in a free-market with no government mandates) it would have had to pass through congress first. And even if it did pass, it would have been better than the leviathan we currently have been saddled with.

      • Debbie G

        I agree, unionville. I am also concerned that the 3,000,000 conservatives who refused to vote for Romney will stay home again if we don’t present them with a candidate who meets their strict requirements. I’d like to remind those people that our constitution allows for freedom of religion for presidential candidates too, and as long as their beliefs do not infringe on our constitutional rights or interfere with policy, they should have had no problem that Romney is Mormon. I am a Christian who is anti-gay rights, anti-abortion, etc., but I voted for Romney because he was definitely the better choice and more in line with my hopes for the country. I hope you’re wrong too.

  • ColoursFed

    The worlds nations have at last UNDERSTOOD what America is at last, and that is a cesspit country, full of right wing Nazis, why the rest of the free world defended and defeated Nazism in the second world war only God knows, because you have got what you wanted back then, and that was to fight along side Hitler, with you main goal that was business before people. Shame on you Jews, this is what you wanted all along, even when Hitler was murdering your Race, you want to side with him. The second world war was fought because a mad man wanted to rule the world, and look at you all right now, you are living the same values, with the same Aims, and objectives. Will it take a third world war to get rid of you all for once and for ever?

    • Debbie G

      Huh?

  • JVR

    The America you talk about Mr Thornton does not exist (anymore) — you have simply grown old in your cohort, and the place you once knew died without you knowing. It is gone forever.

  • Nursejune

    I wish people would quit lumping Medicare into “entitlements” or “redistribution”. I paid into it all my life. I paid for that benefit. Not our fault the crooks in government robbed our piggy bank!

    • antisharia

      No you didn’t. One of the biggest lies of the twentieth century was the these programs were investments with workers paying in and the boys in Washington watching over it. It’s a Ponzi scheme it always was. Whatever you paid in wasn’t going to your health care it was going to someone who was already using the system. Now that you’re on medicare someone is being taxed to pay for your care. The money you “paid in” was gone a long time ago.

      • Debbie G

        Also, if the average worker tallies up how much he has actually contributed to Medicare, would it still be enough? Just one major surgery can cost $50,000. Every visit to the ER is $1500. Can the average taxpayer say they’ve put that much money into the fund? Probably not. So, some taxpayers are subsidizing other taxpayers anyway.

  • Trapper

    The greatest challenge is to stop Leftist judicial tyranny. Congress has a say in what is constitutional so will the Republicans stand up? States can simply refuse to obey the more outrageous acts of judicial tyranny. Will Obama send in the 82nd Airborne to enforce Sotomayer’s edict or some tyrannical order by HUD or the EPA? Come on Republican governors–I am talking to you, Gov. Perry–stand up!

  • http://www.abay.vn/Ve-quoc-te/ve-may-bay-di-tay-ban-nha Nhóm Đào Tạo

    Get out the conservative vote
    as it is all that is going to save America from disintegration.

    ve may bay di Italia
    ve may bay di Thuy Si
    ve may bay di Malaysia

  • Ellman48

    “They will remind Americans that self-reliance and personal freedom are
    written in our DNA, that most of us are like Huck Finn, apt to resent
    every progressive Widow Douglas and Miss Watson trying to coerce us into
    her idea of being “civilized.”

    Excellent Bruce!

  • Ellman48

    “More attempts by special interest groups and businesses to stifle
    dissent and impose politically correct orthodoxy may be sparks that
    along with the failures of Obamacare kindle a nation-wide uprising
    against the statist status quo like the one we witnessed in the summer
    of 2010.”

    Business leaders need to reject progressivism and political correctness. They would do well to heed common sense and not the ideological nonsense of the NY Times and MSNBC. They need to stop catering to the voluble minority of bigots and tyrants who want to impose their will on all of us and especially businesses. Banking and financial executives are especially craven and submissive. Most of all our educational system needs a complete overhaul where ideas compete not where progressivism is presented as a messianic religion.

  • Ellman48

    “…they stand a good chance of slowing down the progressive agenda.”

    Slowing it down is a humble beginning. Eradicating it is the ultimate goal.

  • vladimirval

    Every conservative, Republican, Tea Party, and every other critical thinker needs to read this article. We really need revitalization, information, and direction to take on the task of replacing elected officials that are the cause of this acceleration of the decline of our republic. Read every word and take it to heart. Here we have the tools to make things right. Please do not shrink from the responsibility we have inherited from our founders. With the eagerness of a child on Christmas morning eying presents, we embraced the freedoms and individual liberty they provided us. Now is the time to accept the responsibility that comes with all they gave us. Answer the call, vet all candidates, pick the right ones, and get them elected.

  • American1969

    2014: Throw All Establishment Bums Out!

  • Dylan Felts

    O is not up to ANY decision making. His communist masters will make the decisions he utters.