The election is finally over. The American people, as the tiresome adage goes, have spoken. But what, really, did they say?
For context, consider this:
In 1938, FDR saw his party lose 71 seats in the House. In 1966, just two years removed from pummeling Goldwater, LBJ, to his chagrin, presided over a 47-seat turnover. In 1994, Clinton watched the Republicans gain 54 seats. All this, of course, makes the GOP’s current 60-plus seat gain in the House seem a little more pedestrian. It also makes it seem like a rather fleeting victory. After all, after the American people rebuked the collectivist agendas of Roosevelt, Johnson and Clinton, what conservative reforms ever actually took place? None, of course (and, no, I didn’t forget that triangulated success story known as welfare reform).
The federal government, in each of these cases, continued to grow, even in those areas that, previously, had been beyond the reach of federal authority. This, of course, begs the question: Why should the current rebuke be any more successful? The sobering reality of those elections, and this one, is that their outcomes didn’t change the fundamental fabric of the nation, which was then, as it is now, fraying. Political philosophers, from Plato through Burke, understood that, fundamentally, all political questions are ethical ones. Likewise, our problems today, contrary to the campaign narrative that just turned D.C. on its head, are not fiscal, monetary, or tax related. They are far more fundamental.
Marriage is declining as a Western institution – the National Center for Health Statistics estimates that there are approximately two million marriages a year, which isn’t a lot when you consider the number of divorces per year and our overall population. Also, according to the CDC, 40 percent of all American children are born out of wedlock. For African-Americans, the number is alarmingly higher – 72 percent. And this despite the fact that, even though a cohesive, traditional family is the best indicator of future wealth and success, we nevertheless throw more than $11,000 a year per student toward the romantic notion that mandated public education is a silver bullet for society’s ills. Moreover, according to Forbes, more than 40 percent of the American people spend more money than they make, which makes you wonder how the government, which is, of course, comprised of people, won’t spend more than it takes in. A nation not rooted in family, i.e., a nation not rooted in authority, and which lives beyond its means, is a culture that, being neither restrained nor dependable, is immensely unhealthy.
Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who George Will called God’s servant, once pointed out that “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of society.” It follows, then, that electing many small-government Republicans to power, while certainly not a bad thing, does not begin to reverse the cultural trends of the last many decades, and until our culture conservatizes itself, we can free up markets and shrink the federal government all we want (or, rather, we can try – see above) but little will change.
In the final scenes of Michael Ritchie’s 1972 film The Candidate, Robert Redford’s character, suddenly the Senator-elect from California, retreats from the madness of his election-night party, asking one of his advisors (Peter Boyle): “What do we do now?” Although many newly elected Republicans are traveling to D.C. with high hopes and ambitions, and although they do not share Redford’s character’s McGovernesque political philosophy, they might find, as they try to “put America back on the right track” via “repeal and replace” and tax breaks and the like, that they share his confusion.
Stephen B. Tippins Jr. is a Madison County resident and a staff attorney in Jefferson for the Superior Court of the Piedmont Circuit.