I distinctly recall in college reading Jean Francois Revel’s “The Totalitarian Temptation” and thinking, “Well that’s it. The Commies will win — too many dim people in the West.” Communism, however, crumbled in large part because very undim people, including Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II, were optimists and staunch defenders of freedom.
So when conservatives today argue that we haven’t the fortitude to defeat Islamic terrorists or to put our fiscal house in order, I am not despondent. Quite the contrary, there is great reason to be optimistic. In fact, there are lots of reasons to be. I’ve got my list:
1. With yesterday’s win, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) showed that self-governance, the ability and will to grasp the reins of power from the few and tame our institutions, is possible.
2. It is becoming conventional wisdom, from the center-left to the center-right, that President Obama blew it when he chose to reject the Simpson-Bowles committee’s recommendations. Likewise, a consensus has formed (more or less) that the 2010 midterms were a rejection of big-government statism. The president tries to claim that he is fiscally responsible, hypocrisy being the compliment that big spenders pay to fiscal hawks. In short, cutting the debt has become an article of faith, even if the details are hotly disputed.
3. China is experiencing the perils of its repressive system. As exports have taken a dive in the worldwide slowdown, growth comes to a halt. Fearful of expanding its domestic consumer market and creating a prosperous middle class, the Chinese ruling class has now seen growth flatline. Coupled with political infighting and the constant conflict implicit in repressing its own people, China looks less like it has “figured it out.”
4. We have the best fighting force we’ve ever had. A generation of men and women have battlefield experience. They are practiced in leadership and knowledgable about the Middle East and the tactics of terrorists. The post-9/11 generation of military leaders will be among our best and brightest, whether in the military or in other endeavors.
5. Technology is aiding freedom movements around the world. For every device to monitor the opposition, the tyrannies around the globe are confronted with five work-arounds by freedom advocates. Repressive regimes are waging a losing battle against social media. There is no putting the genie back in the bottle.
6. Democracy has had enormous successes in India, Southeast Asia, Central America and the former states of the Soviet Union. With that comes the potential for new alliances, increased prosperity and the accelerated spread of freedom (success begets success).
In the midst of mass murder in Syria, crippling debt at home, European recession, the erosion of public values and sometimes maddeningly stupid political discussion, it is easy to fall prey to pessimism. But we’ve seen much worse as a country (including large chunks of the 20th century). We can get this right.