Weigel Shifting Through the Wreckage

From the pen of George Weigel:

Five weeks before Election Day, I had lunch with the head of state of one of America’s closest European allies. When I asked him how our politics looked to him from a distance of some 3,500 miles, he replied, more in sorrow than in anger, “America is missing greatness.”

Americans dubious of what they style “foreign entanglements,” who would otherwise shrug off such an observation, might think twice about it in light of a second Obama administration. For my luncheon host was not simply referring to a lack of American leadership abroad; he was, in a single, poignant phrase, speaking of a national will to diminishment that seemed to him evident in both the astonishing possibility that a failed president would be reelected and the equally surprising inability of that president’s opponents to make a compelling case for change.

And here, too, is something for Republican strategists to ponder while sifting through the wreckage. Mitt Romney made himself a better candidate throughout 2012, and for one brief, electric moment at the first debate, he seemed like a leader with vision, passion, and wit. But a recovery of American greatness — cultural, political, economic, diplomatic, and military greatness — was not the driving theme of the Romney campaign. Not knowing Mitt Romney personally, I can’t say whether this obviously decent and successful man simply lacked the understanding necessary to make the case for true American renewal, as distinct from the faux hope-and-change mantra that had seduced so many in 2008. But whatever Romney’s personal inclinations, many Republican campaign managers and consultants always seemed afraid of scaring the horses. Obama would be beaten, they insisted, on grounds of competence, not by a campaign that called the country to recognize that it need not settle for mediocrity, a campaign that summoned America to new heights of achievement.

The themes for such a campaign were not difficult to imagine; they could have been built around a recasting of FDR’s four freedoms. Freedom of religion: No government bureaucrat in Washington is going to tell your religious community how to conduct its affairs. Freedom from fear: A Romney administration will not tolerate the burning of American embassies and the torture and murder of our diplomats by the thugs of al-Qaeda and their jihadist allies. Freedom for excellence and accomplishment: Unshackling American ingenuity from the restraints of government interference will unleash new wealth-creating and wealth-distributing energies, even as that liberation empowers the poor to lead lives of self-responsibility through honest and dignified work. And freedom from unpayable debt: Your children and grandchildren must not be buried beneath a sludge pile of extravagance sluicing out of a national capital (and an administration) addicted to throwing oceans of money at problems.

Would it have worked? Who knows? But the issues would have been sharpened; the fake issues (“war on women,” “tax breaks for the rich,” etc.) might have been marginalized; and a lot more energy — real political energy, not just energies bent on denying Obama a second term — might have been unleashed.


Whatever the clumsiness of Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” remark, the hard fact of the matter is that a critical mass of Americans are now so dependent on government (either directly or through public-sector unions) that any appeal to a larger national vision, much less a vision of personal responsibility, is impossible.


There is, in hard truth, something here. That half the country was prepared to reelect a manifestly failed president whose personal incapacities, like the incapacities of the bloated governmental bureaucracies over which he presided, were on full display in the weeks before the election, and in venues ranging from North Africa to Staten Island, is a very disturbing “indicator,” as the pollsters like to say. That a goodly proportion of that half of America seemed susceptible to the Obama campaign’s class warfare is also disturbing. But perhaps most disturbing of all is the exit-poll data showing that a healthy majority of the electorate believed Obama more capable than Romney of handling foreign crises: and this, after the lethal fiasco of Benghazi, itself the embodiment of an ideologically driven pusillanimity in foreign policy that has been on display since the president’s apologize-for-America tour at the beginning of his first term. “Missing greatness,” it turns out, is not just a function of who’s in charge. It’s a result of democratic citizens’ not paying attention. Or worse, it’s the result of citizens’ suffering such severe ideological glaucoma that they cannot see what is in front of them.

What has obviously changed, in other words, is American political culture: and it is hard to make a case that that change has been for the better.


  1. Comment by paul.griffin:

    I found myself struggling yesterday morning to explain my deep sorrow to my wife upon discovering that Obama had won. She thought I was attaching too much importance to one man. Isn’t our hope found elsewhere? Well, yes, certainly, but I had to explain that it was more like watching a life-long friend succumb to a drug addiction than losing hope personally. My sorrow was not so much over what Obama has or hasn’t done, but what his re-election says about our electorate, our country.

    The simple fact of the matter is that if you are offering financial responsibility, personal liberty (and the responsibilities that go along with it), religious freedom, and the inspiration to greatness, both personally and as a country, no one is buying what you are selling. You might as well be trying to sell horse carriages in competition with Lexus. At twice the price. At least you would probably not be demonized for selling horse carriages (Although with PETA around, you never know).

    Conservatives are wondering what they could have done better to appeal to the American voter or how they could have better run the campaign. It’s actually quite simple. Stop being conservative. Enable people’s dysfunctional desire to be victimized by telling them it’s not their fault and awarding them (non-existant) money from the government for their perceived umbrage. Demonize the wealth-producers and non-antitheists. Glorify our enemies. Murder babies. Pay to have babies murdered, for that matter. And above all, promise people that they will be able to achieve orgasm in whatever twisted manner suits them and condone their every unnatural sexual act.

    Personal irresponsibility sells. Class warfare sells. Religious hatred sells. Sex sells. Conservatism doesn’t.

    One potential hope for our country is lies ironically in natural selection: Christians are the only people I personally know right now who are reproducing and passing their beliefs on to their children. Most people I know in the Church that are my age are occupied with two, three, four children. Most that I know outside the Church are not married, and are certainly not looking to raise a child. My homosexual friends are certainly not reproducing. I cannot imagine how a culture obsessed with non-reproductive sexual activity and infanticide intends to be influential for more than one generation. By definition they are against the next ever coming into being…

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      There is no short comment I can make in response to this, so let me quote a long one.


      Game Called on Account of Darkness

      A week ago we sat waiting out the storm when the lights flickered and went out. One moment we were sitting in a lit room, the television flashing picture and sound, the internet feeding news, and then we were in the dark.

      At first we expected the lights to come on at any minute. Any hour. Any day. And then living without water or power, day after day, it seemed as if the light would never come back.

      And then, unexpectedly, after almost a week, they did.

      The lights have gone out in America now. They may come back. They may not. It’s up to us. No one is going to come help us do it. Other countries have America. We have ourselves.

      Readers will notice that this site did not predict any Romney landslides. It did not engage in empty cheers or promise that he would win half the country and restore moral leadership. That’s not what this site is about. This site is about the hard truths and now as we sit in the dark, let’s pass out some of those around the room.

      We can blame Chris Christie, Sandy or Romney’s last debate performance. But let’s look at the actual election.

      Romney outlasted the primaries because he was the most electable. Two blue state politicians, as bland and inoffensive as possible, ran on the economy, not on war or social issues, and managed to convince many Democrats that they could fix the economy. He got a white turnout to match that of Ronald Reagan and crowded rallies. And none of it was enough.
      Romney had an excellent machine. But Obama had the bigger machine that was more than a collection of SuperPACs. It was the urban political machine, with its suburban tentacles, fed by taxpayer money and integrated into every budget. The time when it could be beaten the old way may be passing.

      The people who came out to worship Obama stayed home. Romney’s rallies drew big crowds. But when all was said and done, the lines of people who feed off the political machine were there, and the handlers of the machine cast their multiple votes and carried off their manifold frauds because their own private economy depended on it.

      Every time people ask me why the left has such a grip on this country, my answer is because they worked for it. It’s the answer that most people don’t want to hear, but it’s true. The left has been planning this for a while. They have been playing the long game, building the infrastructure and indoctrinating generations. And to beat them, we will have to do the same thing.

      The right is 40 years behind the left and it remains a disorganized collection of potentials seeking a compass point. The “right” that got behind Mitt Romney consists of millionaires who want fewer regulations and easier imports from China, of social conservatives who are mainly ignored, except when voter turnout becomes an issue, libertarians who want more freedoms, and the non-ideological small business middle class and the struggling working class sensing their country and way of life slipping away from them.

      Those groups could be welded together into a movement every bit as tribal and protective of its interests, capable of engaging in collective action on behalf of its own interests, as the urban machine vote. And that may already be happening with the Tea Party. But the counter-revolution of the bourgeoisie isn’t here yet. And there’s plenty of work to do to make it a reality.

      The Republican establishment had its shot, twice. It put up moderate non-objectionable candidates. And it lost. It has no policies, beyond keeping the system going, and it has no ideas and no agenda, besides winning. It is a decadent political class fused with an even more decadent pundit class that views elections like these as a game, not as a life-and-death matter. It makes up lies and tells them to its base and hopes that the base will then forgive and forget being lied to and used one more time.

      It’s not done, by any stretch of the imagination. Right now, Christie is patting himself on the back and drawing up a list of advisers for a 2016 run. And a dozen equally loathsome personalities are doing the same thing. And they may even get their way. But that doesn’t really matter. This is a long game and to win it, we have to think long term.

      Moderation does not win elections. If you think it does, go look at the smirking face of Barack Obama. And then imagine him running for office back when Bill Ayers was building bombs. America’s new rulers were once considered far more extreme and unpopular than the Tea Party. Embracing radical and unpopular ideas is not a losing strategy. It is a short term losing strategy and a long term winning strategy so long as your ideas can be used to build a movement capable of turning those ideas into an organizing force.

      The question is whether a right-wing movement can emerge that will make the vast majority of small businessmen in this country feel as negatively about a Democratic president as welfare voters feel about a Republican president?

      This election has come close to testing that proposition. The time has come to test it further. The left went after gun owners, the way that it went after business owners, and the NRA used its hostility to build a powerful coalition of gun owners who broke the will of the elected left and made them turn on easier prey.

      The key is organization. The left built its machines by convincing entire groups that they had a binding interest in a reflexive opposition to Republicans under a Democratic umbrella. Consolidating an opposition based on the same principles, that same sense that its financial oxygen will be cut if the Democrats win, is doable. But it cannot begin and end with the financials.

      This is a cultural war and living in denial of that is senseless. Those social issues? They belong on the table. Because the alternative is that the table will belong to the left and we will be stuck arguing the level of regulation that is appropriate in a society whose entire moral imperative is based on the values of regulation.

      Most people, left and right, want a society based on values. Opting out of the values debate means that we lose by default. Yes some of that is unpopular. It will make some elections unwinnable. Much like supporting gay marriage twenty years ago. The left kept going and it won because that is how the game is played.

      These are all building blocks, but they are still scattered pieces. The right I am describing is based on the left. It is the mirror image, a counter-revolutionary pushback against the left’s intrusions into the lives, values and work of its people. And that isn’t enough. A counter-revolution that is reactive will fail. It is why the Romney campaign was doomed from the start. It is why the Tea Party isn’t enough. It’s not enough to be against things. It’s not enough to be for things because they are the opposite of the things that the people you are at war with are for.

      A movement needs a deeper sense of passion. It must be fueled by a certainty that it holds the answer to the problems of its society and its civilization. It must believe that its existence would be necessary even if the left did not exist. And it must be willing to do anything to win.

      This is not a mere battle of elections. The left occupied and won other fields long before it had a shot at doing anything like taking power. It is first of all a battle of ideas. And it is a battle of structures. And that means a conservative cultural war will be necessary and conservative structures must be built within the system. Rather than making arguments, we must create facts on the ground.

      That’s a tall order and we are way behind. And tactics like these are not very palatable to many of us, because they resemble what the left does. They would rather expect people to naturally do the right thing. And that’s nice. I would very much like people to do the right thing. I would like to stop by one of those long lines that I saw today at the polls, almost as long as the one for free government stuff, and show them a graph of the national debt and the debt that their children will owe. I would like to think that it would change their minds. But I know better… and so do you.

      The left got this far by having a plan. We will either find a plan or we will be gone. America will go the way of Latin America, with gated communities, conservative oligarchs, violent ghettos and red politicians screaming about power to the people. There will be no law, just men with guns and newspapers, and generals in convenient positions, and suitcases full of cocaine in the right hands. If you like this system, it’s probably only a generation away. Given enough immigration from south of the border– maybe less. And then California turns into Brazil and America turns into California.

      We can stop this, but we won’t do it without building a movement that can stand up to the left, without assembling machines that will bring together many of the same people who voted for Obama, and we won’t do it if we are too afraid of the consequences of fighting a culture war with the left to get started.
      It is dark now. On my side of the coast, the time approaches 1 AM. The dark end of one day and the beginning of a new day. It all depends on how you look at things.

      Revolutions are not born out of success, they are born out of despair. They rise out of the dark hours of the night. They come from the understanding that all the other options are running out. Sometimes you have to fall down to rise and sometimes you have to hit bottom, to gather one last breath and fight to reach the top.

      This is still a wonderful country. It is the finest place that this civilization has produced. Despite the events of the last day, it is worth fighting for.

      • Comment by paul.griffin:

        She is most certainly worth fighting for. However, I don’t know if many of us understand what that will cost us. We seem to think that the fight will be intellectual or physical and we tell ourselves that we are ready for that. In reality, I think it will be much more akin to helping an addict recover.

        Anyone who has ever befriended an alcoholic or drug addict, or even worked with them, will have some idea of the kind of sacrifice, resources, and willingness to be hurt that is needed by a multitude of people to win that one addict back, and even then, despite the best efforts and unavenged and forgiven wounds of an entire community, that person may still decide to self-destruct. We must love the unlovable, bless them when they curse us, repay evil with kindness, forgive, and above all pray. Our Savior has shown us the way, and we too must find the strength to say “Forgive them Father, they know not what they do.” It may cost us what it cost Him, but there truly is no other way. Our country is more or less thoroughly addicted to those oh-so-salable cultural drugs I listed previously. It has already chosen to ignore its own well-being for just one more hit.

        I pray to God that He endows me with His strength and love for those that have knowingly or unknowingly taken our country down this path, because I know that my pitiable imitations of strength and love is certainly not up to the task. I would rather rage, argue, show them why they are wrong, beat them, write them off, ignore them as being beyond the pale, anything but love them. And even with His help, America and her people may still choose to turn to destruction.

        I cannot help but mourn.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          Very well said. You speak with the tongue of angels. My heaven strengthen me to stay away from the temptations you list, to argue, to rage, to ignore, all of which (alas!) I am all too prone to do!

          • Comment by Nate Winchester:

            Alas I find my own temptation towards despair and callousness. (This is why I believe God must be infinite love, because there’s no way He could be any less and still bother with us – I know I wouldn’t.)

            Alas it seems that foolishness and misery is our natural state and “the West” was but an aberration, a brief heaven on earth, we were granted for a time that must pass away. Maybe I can do my part as a storyteller and preserve the legends of this golden time to give hope to the generations after me, but history tells me it wouldn’t matter, we’re always in such a hurry to throw out Eden.

            Still, I must thank you guys for giving me some strength to suffer fools another day.

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              Read Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings. At the end of the Great War (World War One) he could see the writing on the wall, that the kingdom of men, and good life, was passing away, and that before the period modern children even consider the good life to have started!

              One reason, oddly enough, I now think Christianity is true is because it is difficult. I should say, back when I was a Stoic, and something very near to an Objectivist, I also held them to be true because of their difficulty, and to this day I think the difficult parts, being rational, being productive, having self control, are the parts where these virtuous pagans were practicing true virtue. (I think Ayn Rand got it wrong exactly where she went soft, such as her apologetics for divorce and adultery in the name of true love.)

              One of the harder words of Christianity to practice is hope, and one of the harder vices to avoid is despair. Every generation has an echo of being flung out of Eden, something that reminds them of that primary and primordial loss. Every generation is tempted to wish for the deluge.

              If it is any comfort, we Christian firmly believe that it will get worse, far worse, on Earth before it gets better. We are expecting a false Prophet to arise in the East, and for the beast of all the political powers of the Earth to ally with it, and for their to be turmoil, and bloodshed, and tears unnumbered, like none have ever seen before.

              And we believe in a happy ending.

              If you think about it, the agnostics and atheists, since they believe entropy will win in the end no matter what, and that death comes under all estates, and time consumes all races, nations, species, worlds and stars, they also believe things will get worse. They just think the story ends there. Nobody lives happily ever after because nobody lives. Despair is not a sin for them because it is their default setting. The self-medicate and benumb the despair with some form of diversion, either a healthy one, like making money (Ayn Rand) or an unhealthy one, like envying those who make money (Marx) or a very unhealthy one, like indulging in as many empty pleasures as you might before you die (Hugh Hefner, the Marquis de Sade, Timothy O’Leary).

              The disciplines in Christianity, things like hope and chastity, meekness and charity, which prevent these acts of self medication and self stupefaction are usually regarded as the narrow, judgmental, impractical, harsh and unpleasant rigors which all right thinking people must avoid. In reality, these disciplines increase our joy.

              Hopeful people are happier than despairing people, even if the hopeful man is in the poorhouse, or the jail, or the hospital, and the despairing man is in his counting house, or his harem, or his opium den.

              It is not easy being hopeful when the world is going to Hell, and the Roman Empire is falling and it seems the world ends. Indeed, it is impossible. But with God, all things are possible.

  2. Comment by The Ubiquitous:

    During election night, I cheered in irony because if I did not laugh I would not know what to do. The greatness in this sarcastic folly struck me only the following day in conversation with a friend, a God-fearing man who means well — and voted for Mr. Obama.

    “But what about abortion? How is that not terrible?”

    “It’s just one issue … ”

    True to form, I cut him off bitterly, and the weight on my shoulders increased with every word: “It is not an issue. It’s everything. How can it be an issue when the scale boggles the mind? What is it, 45 million in the United States alone, since the ’70s?”

    Any man who openly advocates for abortion may seem a nice man, a decent man, who loves his daughters and means well. But these otherwise noble qualities do not redeem a man, but condemn him. It is kinder, in a sense, to Mr. Obama if we demonize him. For the other option is that he is a dupe, willing or unwilling.

    The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices.

    Clean, nice, kind Mr. Obama, with a long solemn face wracked with what might be genuine torment advocates for the clearest, crispest moral evil our country has ever endured and cannot endure for much longer.

    It would almost be best if he really were an America-hating devil, a Socialist fifth columnist, a Balrog clothed in nightmare. But instead he is a man who appears, by every indication, to believe he is doing good by doing the very wrongest thing there is in this world.

    Evil prevails when good men do nothing, or so goes the adage. This is centrally the tragedy of Mr. Obama: He is not just a good man doing nothing, but a good man doing everything upside down without seeming to notice it, aiding and abetting one of the greatest natural evils the world could possibly know. It is as if a man with a wide, friendly smile began to clean the kitchen by dipping his mop in pus and bile and the droppings of a diabetic.

  3. Comment by Rob Corrigan:

    Isn’t this exactly what we’d expect in the end stages of a Gramscian revolution? In my lifetime, for example, the way I was taught American history changed radically just from middle school to college, even what was considered worthy of the ‘canon’. A necessary part of this is a near inversion of traditional morality, where victimhood is glorified, considered more authentic and worthy of attention, than strength and self-sufficiency.

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