If the 2008 presidential elections marked the apex of America’s political adolescence, the 2010 midterm election represented the first glimmers of political maturation.
The year 2008 was the culmination of two concomitant American desires: the desire for political consonance and the desire for responsibility-free living.
Americans elected President Obama because we wanted to put an end to divisive and strident debate in the aftermath of the Bush years; we were tired, and we were taken in by President Obama’s happy talk about the Great Political Convergence and the Great Racial Healing. At the same time, Americans were hurting, and we wanted the government to take care of us; we didn’t even want the responsibility of holding government accountable, so we turned over the levers of power to Great Administrators.
It was stupidly hopeful, juvenile in the extreme. There’s a reason that the Democratic Party counted on college students to an inordinate degree in 2008 -- they required the mush-filled skulls of enthusiastic non-taxpaying pseudo-intellectuals to lead the way.
And so we elected President Obama. It was a time for dreaming. Then we woke up.
Like adolescents suddenly realizing that Mom and Dad are divorcing and going bankrupt, and that no one is going to pay for their Green Day albums and weed, we realized that a system that pays for all our needs also drains dry. We realized that there is no such thing as a Great Political Consonance absent surrender of political control, and that Great Administrators are oligarchs.
We realized that the benefits to dependence are far outweighed by its negatives. We realized that we couldn’t have freedom without limited government, that we couldn’t have wealth without work, and that we couldn’t have unending handouts without unending debt.
We grew up. If 2008 was the Free Lunch Election, 2010 was the sudden understanding that Free Lunches don’t exist. If 2008 was the Second French Revolution, 2010 was the Second American Revolution. In 2008, we closed our eyes and jumped. In 2010, we realized that we were, like Wile E. Coyote, clinging to a tree branch suspended above a 10,000-foot chasm.
During this election cycle, President Obama fondly and repeatedly utilized a cloying metaphor about D standing for both Drive and Democrat, while R stood for Reverse and Republican. He never established what we were supposedly driving toward or away from. But Americans understood. We were driving toward Europe. We were driving away from our history.
And we saw, growing in the windshield, the looming spectre of the European socialist experiment. We saw Greece, where union contracts and government debt had bankrupted an entire nation and turned it into a raging band of disaffected leeches. We saw France, where high taxation, low work hours and early retirement had turned one of the oldest members of Western Civilization into a cauldron of whining. We saw Spain, where perennially high inflation eventually sank the country’s credit.
Then we looked in the rearview mirror. We saw the booming pre-Great Society economy. We saw the economy-jumpstarting Reagan tax cuts. We saw a time when Americans could start businesses without entangling themselves in burdensome regulatory schemes, when Americans could actually keep and save their own money and pass that money on to their children, when Americans gave charity to those in need rather than tax money to bureaucrats in plush offices.
And we made a choice. If we were going to move this country in one direction or another, we were going to move toward restoration rather than expediting national senescence. We were going to take the reins of our lives in our own hands once again, not leave them to the good intentions of government and the rhetorical flatulence of government’s spokespeople.
The first step toward that restoration came on Tuesday. The American people voted for gridlock, almost literally embodying the William F. Buckley definition of conservatism, standing athwart history yelling “Stop!” The next step will come in 2012 when Americans have to make another affirmative choice in favor of liberalism’s rollback, not its mere containment.
But for the moment, let us recognize how far we have come in just two years: from the precipice of national teenage oblivion to the foundations of a new American adulthood. Sometimes, it takes a crisis to learn life lessons.
The economic crisis has taught us all that we must rely on ourselves and our families, not on the coercive power of a ham-handed and brutal government hell-bent on its own growth. Responsible adults are in charge now—the American people. And we will not stop until our representatives of both parties grow up, too.