- - Sunday, October 16, 2011


The cacophony from the left (and its politically correct echo in the mainstream media) calling for amity, negotiation and compromise to solve the current crisis is not only hypocritical and insincere but ahistorical. The American republic was born and nurtured in conflict, not only on the battlefield but also in the world of ideas. No one who has read American history can deny the virulence of the debates over fundamentals that initiated and always characterized our political discourse. That it should be true today is not only logical but virtuous.

As always in a free environment, the U.S. polity is constantly in the midst of making fundamental decisions, whether voters know it or not. But now an economic crisis has brought a studied re-examination of basic values and issues. It is only natural that the discussion would be heartfelt and contentious.

On one side, the Obama administration brought to power the ‘60s generation. Despite their enormous impact on popular culture, they were defeated then in their attempts to reconstitute the republic by substituting a pseudo-Marxian template. They now have slid into positions of power largely by happenstance of demography, at a time when the larger public is questioning the effectiveness of old formulae.

However much criticism President Obama gets from the left, the essence of their common worldview is cohesive: a strategy of redistribution of wealth through government fiat. It is left, therefore, largely to the Republican nominees to untangle the issues, however unsystematically.

In this process, confirming that old ideas never die, the hypothesis of the old Rockefeller Republicans — for lack of better nomenclature — has resurfaced with gusto. The concept envisions a “correct” political party allied with powerful business interests as the one best able to lead to a prosperous and stable future. But in this period of severe economic crisis and unusually volatile politics, that ethos is being challenged by a combination of old-fashioned populism and 19th-century American constitutionalism calling for more radical approaches.

That conflict places candidates for the Republican nomination in critical competition, a competition that can be obscured by accidents of personality, region, ethnicity, race and all the other accouterments of mass-communications politics. Mitt Romney clearly represents the Rockefeller Republican side of the argument (perhaps with a slight assist from fellow Mormon Jon Huntsman — an irony not lost on those who recall the daring of their forefathers). The business model, he argues, is what is needed to rescue the republic. That model, he again quite rightly argues, always comes with convoluted solutions to what are undeniably complex political and economic problems. But in the process, Mr. Romney loses his way, abandoning the country’s essence: freedom of choice for as many as possible, granted at the risk of an occasional horrendous miscalculation.

Mr. Romney’s meandering represents why in politics, unlike everyday life and business, sound practice often means cutting to the heart of an issue. The U.S. economic disaster is, this writer would argue, basically the result of government meddling in the markets and the unforgiving, unavoidable boom and bust of the business cycle. No better example is apparent than in the attempt to wish Americans into universal homeownership through the disastrous creation of those semi-governmental, engorged mortgage brokers, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. It was, after all, the housing bubble as much as any other single factor that brought on the crisis.

See also Mr. Romney’s attempt as Massachusetts governor to solve the state’s health care problems through an individual mandate to buy insurance — a concept appropriated by Mr. Obama in his own health care law, which marks an eventual, clandestine trip to a national government system on the disastrous European and Japanese models. Mr. Romney’s effort, too, was typical of politicians who rely on business orthodoxy for success, attempting to imitate the CEO’s ability to command his organization’s cadre — so different from a heterogeneous world of democratic politics that demands an ability to persuade above all else.

That moral as well as cognitive lapse illustrates, contrary to the calumny expounded on the left, why the high priests of laissez-faire economics such as Milton Friedman, Ludwig von Mises and particularly Friedrich Hayek saw free markets as an instrument of morality and altruism. The real immorality is in the disguised alliances between politicians and their crony business partners (nowhere better exemplified than by the current administration), which is always destructive of successful economic development.

• Sol Sanders, a veteran international correspondent, writes weekly on the intersection of politics, business and economics. He can be reached at [email protected], and he blogs at https://www.yeoldecrabb.wordpress.com.

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