Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Next November’s election will decide more than who becomes president. It will establish whether the United States has shifted from its foundational ideals of limited government, personal freedom, citizen autonomy, and a robust foreign policy that serves America’s interests and security, to the European model of quasi-pacifist internationalism abroad, and a centralized, collectivist technocratic rule at home –– exactly what 2400 years of political philosophy has feared is the infrastructure of tyranny.
Barack Obama vowed to “fundamentally transform the United States,” but for all his malign changes and erosion of the Constitutional order, “fundamentally” remains a question-begging adverb. The unique circumstances of his election and re-election ––especially the desperate and misguided yearning for racial reconciliation to be achieved merely by voting –– question whether a critical mass of Americans agrees with that goal. High disapproval numbers in polls of Obamacare, the president’s foreign policy, and the man himself suggest not. But the election of Hillary Clinton would show that despite those opinions, a majority of Americans endorse the progressive Democrats’ agenda.
That agenda has been obvious for at least a century. It is predicated on political scientism, the false idea that human nature, motivation, and behavior, along with social and political order, can be understood “scientifically,” and thus manipulated and guided toward a more egalitarian world –– the “social justice” of so much progressive rhetoric. But such a program requires a technocratic, administrative elite housed in powerful government bureaucracies and agencies, walled off from direct accountability to and scrutiny by the people. The ensuing reduction of political freedom and autonomy necessary for top-down rule is compensated for by redefining political freedom as private hedonism –– the freedom to indulge the appetites, consume products and services, abort unwanted pregnancies, and choose whatever sexual identity one fancies.
The second dimension of this agenda is the adoption of “internationalism,” the notion that nationalist particularity and interests are dangerous and immoral, and so must be marginalized. Transnational organizations and bureaucracies, manned by technocratic elites, must order the world’s peoples in order to create global “social justice.” The belief that diplomatic “engagement” and consultative processes can reduce, contain, or forestall conflict and eliminate violence as the arbiter of interstate rivalries. Our nation is no more “exceptional” than any other, as Obama once said, and so must defer to the consensus of the “global community” and pursue its interests. The West in particular is obliged to adopt this ideology. Its alleged imperialist and colonialist crimes, and its advanced capitalist economies and technologies, have fomented the disorder that has exploited and oppressed the rest of the world, and inhibited its development and improvement. Thus the West, especially the United States, apparently owes various forms of “reparations” to the Rest, and be a world “partner mindful of its own imperfections,” as Obama wrote in 2007.
The two administrations of Barack Obama, and the campaign platform of Hillary Clinton, are expressions of this agenda. Federal agencies like the EPA, the NLRB, the DOJ, and the IRS, to name a few, have aggressively intruded into the freedom of citizens and businesses in order to impose politicized investigations and regulations never sanctioned by Congress. The president has abused executive power to change laws from Obamacare to immigration, realizing Woodrow Wilson’s dream of a chief executive empowered not just to veto bad laws, but to create “good” ones. Hillary has already promised to do the same, vowing, for example, to take executive action on gun control. She also has peddled the same “social justice” rhetoric that has dominated the Obama presidency –– “fair share,” “you didn’t build that,” “income inequality,” “war on women,” all the slogans of the redistributionist federal government increasing its power in order to create “equality.”
And like Obama, Hillary supports the social changes that redefine ordered liberty as the power to do what one likes in private life –– the public square is another matter –– without hindrance from tradition or religion or even common sense. Hence the flip-flop both politicians made on same-sex marriage and the Defense of Marriage Act signed by Hillary’s husband. They both support compelling religious organizations and private businesses to violate their tenets and provide birth control and abortions in their health plans, or consumer services to same-sex couples.
It is no accident that progressive hedonistic freedom focuses on sexual matters. Sex is the most effective appetite to exploit for distracting people from their loss of political autonomy and independence, and weakening institutions like churches and families that offer an alternative moral authority to the Leviathan state. As the Athenians understood, sexual indulgence –– in our case, freed from traditional and religious taboos, its destructive consequences subsidized by state-funded birth control, abortion, and wealth transfers to children born out of wedlock –– erodes the fundamental virtues necessary for self-government: duty, self-control, and the sacrifice of personal pleasure for the good of the political community.
As for foreign policy, Obama’s record of appeasement and retreat speaks for itself. If you want a monument to that failure, just look around the Middle East. But he has camouflaged his failure in the rhetoric and procedures of internationalism, spiced with distrust of American power and influence as a disruptive force in global affairs. Apart from droning to death an endless supply of al Qaeda number twos, the bulk of his foreign policy, from the Iranian negotiations to the Paris climate-change talks, has comprised multinational gabfests with much posing for the cameras and portentous but empty statements, while little of substance is achieved.
Just peruse the State Department’s “Pivotal Foreign Policy Moments of 2015,” which comprise summits, U.N. Security Council Resolutions, establishing diplomatic relations with a thug regime, chairing the Arctic Council, negotiating a bad deal with the Iranians, “committing to ambitious development goals,” negotiations on free trade, another conference on “protecting our oceans,” negotiating a symbolic “climate agreement,” and the much lampooned preposterous claim of “bringing peace to Syria,” which a spokesman later clarified as beginning the process of discussions that will bring peace to Syria. In short, while half the world descends into violence, state adventurism, and expansion by aggressors, Obama does nothing but engage in multilateral talk and symbolic gestures that give the weak an excuse not to act, while the ruthless manipulate the process to achieve its aims or camouflage its designs.
Hillary’s foreign policy beliefs are murkier. Even the uber-liberal New Yorker has called them “baffling” and “confused.” There’s no doubt her progressive instincts are all toward the internationalist, “diplomatic engagement” style of foreign relations. She talks of “smart power,” in general a euphemism for avoiding military force beyond the symbolic drone strikes favored by Obama, or the occasional photogenic, politically safe (i.e. no American casualties) bombing campaigns. Indeed, as she defined it, “smart power” is even squishier than that: it comprises “leaving no one on the sidelines, showing respect, even for one’s enemies, trying to understand and insofar as psychologically possible empathize with their perspective and point of view.” She makes the right internationalist noises about “invigorating diplomacy” and soliciting allies, “partners,” and “coalitions.” The mess in Libya in part reflected the naïve, internationalist idealism of the “responsibility to protect” doctrine, invoked because of Gaddafi’s murderous rhetoric about the jihadist rebels fighting against him. And in 2011 she thought the time was right to start peace talks with the resurgent Taliban.
Yet if we can believe her champions, Hillary is much more of a realist than Obama. She advocated arming the Syrian rebels early on, taking a tougher line on Iran, backing off of pressuring Israel over settlements, and sending more troops to Afghanistan than the president sent in his “surge.” She also believes, we are told, that America must take the “lead” in resolving global conflicts, in contrast to her quondam boss. All these more hawkish positions have troubled her dovish base, which explains her difficulty on the stump in dealing with her vote to approve the Iraq War Resolution in 2002, and her evasive response to ABC’s Martha Raddatz’s question about establishing a no-fly zone in Syria.
Hillary’s foreign policy positions, however, shouldn’t “baffle” anybody. She said clearly in her book Hard Choices, “Our challenge is to be clear-eyed about the world as it is while never losing sight of the world as we want it to become. That’s why I don’t mind that I’ve been called both an idealist and a realist over the years. I prefer being considered a hybrid, perhaps an idealistic realist.” In other words, Hillary’s self-professed foreign policy philosophy is classic Clintonian triangulation based on political calculation. So what does that mean for a President Hillary Clinton? Will she be more apt to do the right thing for political reasons, as her husband often did? If so, she may be a slight improvement over Obama.
In the main, though, lacking her husband’s genius for political trimming, Hillary will govern based on the progressive paradigm that points to bigger intrusive government at home, and further American retreat abroad, all subject to self-serving political needs. That will be the consequence of the decision American voters face in November––a continuation of Obama’s weakening of the political freedom and citizen self-reliance the Constitution was designed to protect.