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KUHNER: The fall of America

Bush and Obama have more in common than they think

- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 30, 2010

With 2010 drawing to a close, the American moment is ending not with a bang but a whimper. The 2000s will be remembered as the era of American decline.

Instead of trying to reverse this, Washington is hastening it. The lame-duck Congress, with help from Republicans, passed President Obama's tax deal, which adds nearly another trillion to the debt. It is a massive stimulus in disguise - with no offsetting spending cuts.

Moreover, Mr. Obama - again with GOP help - succeeded in getting "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) repealed, enabling homosexuals to serve openly in the military. This is one of the most revolutionary and damaging acts ever done to a core American institution. It will decimate the greatest fighting force on earth, undermining unit cohesion, morale and discipline - the lifeblood of a successful military. It is an act of national suicide.

This will add another layer of difficulty to our already inconclusive wars. Consider that the last time the United States won a major war was 1945 - Korea was a stalemate, Vietnam a defeat; the first Gulf War failed to topple Saddam Hussein; Afghanistan and Iraq have become prolonged quagmires. Total victory has become alien to us.

A small example of how far we have fallen, how pampered and coddled we have become, was the decision by the NFL this week to postpone the game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings in Philadelphia. Football players are supposed to be the closest thing Americans have to modern Roman gladiators. The game exemplifies the rugged individualism and grit at the heart of the American character. The reason for the delay: Philadelphia was expecting 11 inches of snow. By comparison with historical Northeast winters, this was a minor storm - something previous generations simply shoveled and plowed through as they got on with their daily lives.

If 11 inches of snow brings America's gladiators to a halt, it is clear we have lost our resilience.

This is evident, too, in the kinds of leaders we elect. Conventional wisdom holds that Mr. Obama is the antithesis of his predecessor, former President George W. Bush. Mr. Obama is a liberal Democrat. Mr. Bush was a conservative Republican. Mr. Obama is a cosmopolitan internationalist, while Mr. Bush was a unilateralist cowboy. In fact, they have much more in common than either the left or the right would like to admit. Mr. Obama is simply continuing -and intensifying - many of the disastrous Bush policies.

Runaway government spending, new entitlements (for example, the prescription drug benefit), soaring deficits, bailouts, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, expensive stimulus packages, a porous southern border and nation-building abroad - all of this began under Mr. Bush. Mr. Obama is accelerating the big-government corporatism and social-engineering militarism that marked the Bush years. At its core, Mr. Obama's presidency is a culmination of - not a break from - Bushism.

Economic stagnation has set in. Mr. Obama's trillion-dollar deficits have pushed us to the brink of national bankruptcy. The greatest domestic threat to America is the skyrocketing national debt - which is approaching Greece-like levels. Instead of slashing spending, Washington continues to party like it's 1965. Obamacare is the final nail in America's fiscal coffin. We are spending money we simply do not have.

Moreover, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid combined account for more than $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities. The stark reality is that we cannot afford these huge - and popular - entitlement programs. To restore fiscal sanity and prevent crushing taxation, these programs must be privatized or substantially scaled back. The public, however, has no appetite for these kinds of draconian measures.

Like many Europeans, Americans have become addicted to la dolce vita - the good life. Generous social programs combined with increasing consumerism and sexual hedonism characterize the modern West. It is the end result of a society stripped from its Christian moorings.

The 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche claimed "God is dead." Nietzsche's point was that the loss of faith would constitute our civilization's seminal cultural reality. The passing of the Christian West signifies the end not only of a worldview, but of a character type - one based on honor, family, self-help, blood-and-soil patriotism, personal responsibility and a God-centered moral order. Self-indulgence and self-expression have filled the vacuum. Life is no longer about sacrifice and duty; it's about maximizing pleasure and self-fulfillment.

Most Americans can no longer endure pain. This is why unemployment benefits keep being extended. This is why nearly every industry is "too big to fail." It is the inevitable consequence of statism: the transformation of freeborn and productive citizens into de facto serfs who look to Uncle Sam for handouts. Decades of liberalism have led to the servile state.

In the 2000s, as we became soft, self-indulgent and mired in foreign interventions, a new great power emerged: an ultranationalist China. During the past decade, Beijing became the world's No. 1 manufacturer and automaker, premier exporting nation and No. 2 economy. China is engaged in a massive military buildup and menaces its neighbors. It owns much of our public debt. It is to America what we once were to Great Britain: the rising force in the world.

All civilizations rise and fall. Ancient Greece, Persia, Rome, medieval Europe, the great Italian city-states, the Ottoman Empire, the vast European empires - the past is littered with the corpses of once unparalleled and dominant powers that are now a distant memory. So too has America passed its zenith.

Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute.

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