Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Time For Once Upon A Time In America

July 17, 2011


By Richard F. Miniter
For many years now America has been profoundly altering its culture, reordering its economy, and shedding individual liberties in response to inventive short stories told by liberal left-wing theorists.  Yet, whenever one of these stories turns out to be a fairytale, as they all invariably do, we rarely back up and repair the damage.
In part because the practical result of any one fairy tale takes a while to fall to earth and poison the drinking water and by the time it does our attention has long since been focused on marshalling the facts in the debate about some new law, regulation, ordinance, code, or international agreement demanded by those who believe the next fairy tale.  Or say they do.
And as often as not, we lose because we tend to ignore the fact that the real power, in this ongoing struggle between individual freedom and those who fear and revile it lies not in the facts of the matter, but with the other foot in this two step dance: the story.
For example as I write this the August 2, 2011 deadline fabricated by the Obama administration for an extension of the federal debt ceiling is less than a month away and the debate rages.  Yet not one national Republican leader has stepped forward to confront the story line that gave rise to it.  Namely that the U.S. will for the first time in its history have to default and so catastrophic economic consequences will ensue if the debt ceiling is not extended.
An absolute is a fairy tale because the federal government receives in tax revenue every day much more money than it needs to service the debt and therefore doesn't have to default.  Instead what will happen is that Democrats will have to stop sending out as much money as they would like to people who they hope will vote for them in the next election.  Which may be a catastrophe to the left-wing liberals who depend upon being elected in order to eat, but not to anybody else.  In fact the real story is only good things will result from the debt ceiling being left exactly where it is because if federal spending slows on the morning of August 3 that will not only will that put great downward pressure on interest rates but allow those trillions of dollars in the future to flow into the working economy and build factories and upgrade farms, foundries, offices, and countless small businesses.  The very endeavors which raise everybody's standard of living instead of pretending to.
Which one has to admit, is and are very good things.
But that's not the story that's out there.  Instead, the Republican leaders in Congress remain focused like a laser beam on the consequences of incurring more debt without restraining spending, and on promising no new taxes.  On the facts of the issue, meanwhile complaining that Obama won't seriously engage.   
But why should he?  He owns the narrative.  And so eventually in some face-saving manner, in a flurry of phony budget devices, the Republicans will cave.  Because while they posture and prate, the story of catastrophic consequences is having its way in their home districts.
A well-worn device.  Just in recent memory one can recall the fairy tale about the thirty-seven million uninsured without any medical treatment which precipitated the disastrous health-care bill.  The fairy tale about the earth warming because the air was polluted by industry which produced any amount of regulation and the craziest ideas for destroying the power generation industry.  The fairy tale about BP cutting corners and producing the oil spill in the Gulf Of Mexico which effectively led to a ban on all drilling there.  The fairy tale about greed, not the government manipulation of the market, having caused the housing bust which led to TARP.  The fairy tale about public-school teachers being underpaid and overworked, about black churches burning, North Korea getting serious about nuclear proliferation, about JFK, RFK, and FDR, about thousands of FBI agents poring over everybody's library records, about self-esteem being American children's biggest problem, or the fairy tale that it makes sense for airport screeners to strip-search eighty-year-old Norwegian grandmothers rather than young men of Middle Eastern origin.
Sad.  But that's the way events will continue to play out until conservatives finally understand that stories are not only the way people learn what to believe, but by and large they're the only way.  Even in the case of subjects one learns by rote, such as mathematics or piano-playing, you have to be telling yourself a story which makes you want to apply yourself to the task.  It's just the way the human mind works.  It's why the Bible has only ten rules but a thousand parables.
It's also why cultures differ.  Because in a very well-understand process, a story becomes a parable which become a metaphor which becomes a word.  And then part of a language.  And since it's only language which allows humans to express thoughts above the level of Good-Food-Eat, this explains why cultures vary so much in what they believe is important -- because so many native words and phrases  represent stories, or shall we say lessons learned, specific to that culture and that culture alone.
Ask yourself what would happen if our Constitution were imposed upon a third-world country which has no tradition of grassroots democracy, no native word for elected officials, ballots, no metaphors for the rule of law, not even a word for freedom.  Both the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence and in fact almost any one of our institutions would be culturally incomprehensible to such a people.
Because it follows that the documents and the institutions they specify would have no effect.  After all, how much would the First Amendment protect your freedom of speech if you lived in a sea of people who don't understand what freedom of speech is?  Or how it could be important?
Which is exactly where the left-wing liberal is headed with these fairy tales -- a different culture.  One in which we no longer comprehend our institutions and founding documents.  Or our tradition of local self-government and individual freedom.  A society in which all of that or any of that is culturally foreign.  And as long as we continue to allow these very weak and fanciful tales to prevail, to become unchallenged parables then metaphors, then part of the language, that's where we'll end up. 
But there are any number of American stories which like dozing grizzly bears are resting out of sight in the left-wing liberal grass.  A threat of which they're aware and hope we never notice.  Stories which give the lie to left-wing liberal fairy tales from La-La Land.  Much better accounts of our life and times.  More adult, tellable, and fierce, adventuresome, inspiring, and they're true.  They're also even simpler.  So it's long past time we let the facts and the essentially hollow public debate take care of itself for a bit, wake up those stories, and then let them bite.