Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Iron Lady and the Future Course of America

Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) was interviewed yesterday on a radio show. He was asked if "he had a horse" in the Republican field for the nomination. His response was classic:

Senator Mike Lee (R-UT)
At this point…I haven’t endorsed anyone, but if there were such a thing as an anti-endorsement I’d be tempted to bring out an anti-endorsement against Newt Gingrich. I’ve been appalled with the fact that he has, in effect, attacked other candidates, particularly Mitt Romney, based on the fact that he’s a capitalist, based on the fact that he’s been successful. He tried to pit one group of Americans against another and become a divider, much like our President is doing. It almost has a class warfare feel to it. And that doesn’t sit well with conservatives, or Republicans in general, and I don’t think it is going to work.

When I read that this morning, it caused several responses within me.

First, it resonated with the way I've been feeling lately as I have watched the circular firing squad these candidates seem to face every time they get together. We have a strange and elongated process to select a new president in this country, don't we? In this last debate Rick Santorum wisely tried to put an end to it and asked for a concession from both sides that Newt is a lifer politician and Romney has been very successful financially in the private sector (confirmed for all to see by the release of his 2010 tax returns - all 550 pages worth). "Let's move on," he intoned. At one point Newt even asked for a "truce," after Romney exposed him yet again for his outrageous attack on Romney as "anti-immigration." 

The attacks between the candidates against each other have been withering. Some say it's good to prolong the debates, extend the nominating process, fully vet the candidates. And ironically, who is it that's calling for support for Newt the most loudly? None other than perhaps the least vetted Vice-Presidential candidate in modern history, Sarah Palin. 

When I hear her whiney voice as a Fox News "analyst," I honestly have to ask, "Is anyone listening to her anymore?" Really? Who cares what she thinks? The world today has an ample supply of cable news network "contributors" in the punditocracy without Sarah Palin. I never knew there were so many "strategists" for both sides. The only voices I'm listening to are the people who have the guts to climb into the arena and get bloodied. Palin is certainly NOT one of those people, who is now living comfortably on her John McCain-bestowed celebrity. Gingrich has her and John King to thank for his hollow victory in South Carolina, pure and simple. He capitalized on one shining debate moment and knocked it out of the park.

Second, I went to see "The Iron Lady" last night because I wanted to be reminded once again about how ironic and unfortunate it seems to me that America has repeated the same mistakes Great Britain made during the last century in going down the path of socialism. 

Margaret Thatcher
I was not disappointed. Meryl Streep did a phenomenal turn as Margaret Thatcher, who is still living in her 87th year. The film for me was like reliving history. When she began her political career, she had visited America and drew inspiration from what she learned here. "They are unafraid, they look to the future, they take bold and decisive action," was the essence of her take-away revelation, and it propelled her into leadership of the Conservative Party, and eventually into an 11 1/2-year residency at Number 10 Downing Street as the longest-tenured 20th century Prime Minister of Great Britain. 

Thatcher had to overturn decades of Labor Party rule in England that had stifled economic growth through the implementation of all the socialist ideals, including national health care. She countered by privatizing everything, deregulated industries, restored confidence by taking back the Falkland Islands from the naked aggression of terrorist elements in Argentina, when England could least afford it, then presided over a sustained return to capitalism that inspired a nation. Thatcher stood on principle, politics be damned. I'd vote for her steely resolve in a New York minute if she were running today.

The themes of the movie last night were an eerie echo of the debates and stump speeches we are hearing daily in America from both sides. We would do well to pay attention to those who would propose turning our backs once and for all on socialism. It is the only way we will survive, as Thatcher's England once learned by their sad experiment with socialism in the last century. Socialism was not the road to prosperity then, and it certainly is not the right road today.

Third, this election in 2012 is going to easily become the most intense and hotly contested in our nation's history. There are a number of good reasons why this will be so, not the least of which is a polarized cable news community, to say nothing of what used to be a believable journalistic profession that is filled now with little more than political prostitutes from both sides. Never forget they are entertainers first and foremost, and the more they can keep the boiling pot stirred and bubbling the higher their ratings. The voices are shrill and piercing every day. "Fair and balanced" news reporting in this country is a populist myth. It seems everyone has picked a position and is defending it vociferously. No one seems to listen to anyone else. 

It may not be overstating it to say this election will be the most important we have ever seen in our lifetimes. Why? Because the outcome will determine many things, not the least of which will be to settle the argument about whether socialism can be put behind us and trampled under the feet of freedom now on the march. Obama, instead of being interested in engaging in constructive dialogue with his opponents on the other side, is more entrenched and isolated than ever before, more hardened, more repetitive, tone deaf and more certain he is right than ever before. His SOTU address the other night was pathetic if you measure it by his unwillingness to acknowledge the hard realities of his debt and deficit proliferation in the name of social re-engineering. No mention of the first-ever downgrade to the U.S. bond rating in history, nor a viable plan to reverse course against the profligate spending and deficit binge. Unthinkable. 

Again, I am amazed we have even flirted with the idea of socialism as long as we have. There has been a steady erosion of freedom and self-determination for decades in this country. Gradually yet persistently, since the Great Depression, the social safety net has been built. Both parties have contributed to its creation. Now both sides must admit their errors of the past and begin quickly to dismantle their Frankenstein, if it takes repetitive election cycles to ensure it. 

I was perusing some pamphlets my father gave me recently to read when Medicare was first introduced in the sixties. He was in hospital administration back in the day, and gave speeches in which he frankly admitted no one knew where it was headed. With the advantage of hindsight in 2012 we may now know for ourselves where it was headed back then - into oblivion and bankruptcy if we don't arrest the escalating cost trends. It may have been LBJ's inspiration as part of his "Great Society" initiatives, but the Republicans back then went along because their constituents demanded it. So, please stop the finger pointing.

Surprising to me, an overwhelming majority of Utahns (2/3) favored national health insurance, when asked whether they supported it in some polling data contained in the reports I reviewed. The only holdouts were the residents of Utah County, home to Church-owned BYU, who opposed a national plan. It seems the more things change, the more they remain the same. 

You can make the argument our politicians from either side today cannot seem to draw a bright line between themselves on these issues, and perhaps you would be right in almost every particular. I have said repeatedly I do not believe much distinction can be found anymore between traditional Republicans and Democrats. 

But this year the contrasts must be made with bold strokes and clear bright yellow lines. We are in danger of collapse financially as nation, and the perils of continuing down this path toward self-destruction are real. Our military leaders are confirming our biggest security threat as a nation today has nothing to do with our enemies abroad. They say it is the size of our national debt and deficits. 

You can point to politicians on both side and find ample justification for your angst. The point is we put them into the positions where they are, including Barack Obama. We have self-inflicted wounds that will take years to heal, and we must begin applying the "hard medicine" prescribed by Margaret Thatcher to make a beginning or we are doomed to failure. And that must not happen in the world if freedom is to survive.

Fourth, there is no evidence yet to suggest we can identify one single "white knight candidate" who will cure all our ills. Once America awakens from its long sleepy drift down the road toward socialism, and I think the awakening began in the elections of 2010, we may have a chance to make the course corrections needed to turn things around again, but we must act now. 

While no one person can do it - it would be fool-hearty to suggest that the "only one person" might be Mitt Romney, the turn-around specialist of Bain Capital and the 2002 Winter Olympics - nevertheless we must pick a leader who can and must bring together the disparate stakeholders and begin again to restore America's founding principles of self-reliance, capitalism and self-determination under the banner of freedom, not more taxation, class distinction, class envy and burdensome regulation. Study Margaret Thatcher for the role model we must seek in leadership. 

At this point in the election cycle I am convinced beyond any doubt that "only one person" is NOT Barack Obama. 

We must turn our attention first and foremost to the make-up of the next Senate. There is a chance that enough conservative thinkers like Mike Lee and Rand Paul can be elected to give new hope to legislation that would arrest our profligate tendencies for fiscal recklessness. 

The House is where spending bills originate, and there are enough there from the gains of the 2010 election to at least halt the speeding train since then, but now the job must be to put like-minded people in the Senate in 2012. That's why I say "only one person" cannot do it alone. I'd like to think Mitt Romney could be the leader to help put all the pieces together, but it may still be too early to make the determination whether the nation has the will to line up behind his leadership. With 33 new conservative senators in this election whose seats are up for grabs, we might have a fighting chance together to reverse course.

President Ezra Taft Benson
Fifth, and finally, there are ample lessons about our present condition in The Book of Mormon. Let me cite but a few, beginning with President Ezra Taft Benson:

The record of the Nephite history just prior to the Savior’s visit reveals many parallels to our own day as we anticipate the Savior’s second coming. The Nephite civilization had reached great heights. They were prosperous and industrious. They had built many cities with great highways connecting them. They engaged in shipping and trade. They built temples and palaces.
But, as so often happens, the people rejected the Lord. Pride became commonplace. Dishonesty and immorality were widespread. Secret combinations flourished because, as Helaman tells us, the Gadianton robbers “had seduced the more part of the righteous until they had come down to believe in their works and partake of their spoils” (Helaman 6:38). “The people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning” (3 Nephi 6:12). And “Satan had great power, unto the stirring up of the people to do all manner of iniquity, and to the puffing them up with pride, tempting them to seek for power, and authority, and riches, and the vain things of the world,” even as today (3 Nephi 6:15).
Mormon noted that the Nephites “did not sin ignorantly, for they knew the will of God concerning them” (3 Nephi 6:18).
There were but few righteous among them (see 3 Nephi 6:14). Nephi led the Church with great power and performed many miracles, yet “there were but few who were converted unto the Lord” (3 Nephi 6:21). The people as a whole rejected the Lord. They stoned the prophets and persecuted those who sought to follow Christ. (Ensign, May 1987, 4).

There are three familiar "break-ups" that occur in the historical record. First, "there became a great inequality in all the land, insomuch that the church began to be broken up." (3 Nephi 6:14). Second, "the people were divided one against another; and they did separate one from another into tribes, every man according to his family and his kindred and friends; and thus they did destroy the government of the land." (3 Nephi 7:2). And finally, just before Christ comes among the Nephites, "the face of the whole earth became deformed, because of the tempests and the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the quaking of the earth." (See 3 Nephi 8:4-20).

You can make your own judgments about where we might be on the timeline as we move toward the Second Coming, but certainly the earmarks described in the Nephite record are hauntingly familiar, aren't they? It may well be the case that we have reached a point of no return as the "America in decline" buzz continues unabated in some circles, but I'd like to think there is still hope. The hope lies in repentance, as summarized by Mormon's final appeal to those who would receive the record of The Book of Mormon in these latter days:

And then, O ye Gentiles, how can ye stand before the power of God, except ye shall repent and turn from your evil ways?
Know ye not that ye are in the hands of God? Know ye not that he hath all power, and at his great command the earth shall be rolled together as a scroll?
Therefore, repent ye, and humble yourselves before him, lest he shall come out in justice against you — lest a remnant of the seed of Jacob shall go forth among you as a lion, and tear you in pieces, and there is none to deliver. (Mormon 5:22-24).

Mormon writes to his son near the end of the record:

My son, be faithful in Christ; and may not the things which I have written grieve thee, to weigh thee down unto death; but may Christ lift thee up, and may his sufferings and death, and the showing his body unto our fathers, and his mercy and long-suffering, and the hope of his glory and of eternal life, rest in your mind forever.

And may the grace of God the Father, whose throne is high in the heavens, and our Lord Jesus Christ, who sitteth on the right hand of his power, until all things shall become subject unto him, be, and abide with you forever. Amen. (Moroni 9:25-26).

When we repent, mercy is immediately extended. Let us claim mercy, and may we never be past the need to feel after it.

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