jueves, 7 de enero de 2016

What will politics look like after Obama?

Diagnosing the American illness

Speaking to a crowd in 2008, Senator Barack Obama claimed victory in his quest for the Democratic nomination for president. “If we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it,” Obama assured his supporters,
generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth. This was the moment—this was the time—when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very better selves, and our highest ideals.

Obama’s claims that evening were grandiose, even by the standards of the 2008 campaign. On a stage in St. Paul, Minnesota, the first-term Illinois senator positioned himself as a visionary leader ushering in a new era of American politics, shedding past partisan divisions and uniting a generation around the promises of hope and change.

So what went wrong?

Perhaps we were just not willing to work for that vision, to fight for it and believe in it. Or perhaps—as James Piereson suggests in Shattered Consensus: The Rise and Decline of America’s Postwar Political Order—Obama misread the moment, trying to make it into something it was not. In his new book, Piereson, president of the William E. Simon Foundation and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, argues that the Obama presidency marks the end of a political era rather than a beginning.

Most of the book’s chapters were previously published as stand-alone essays in publications such as The National Interest, Commentary, The Weekly Standard, and the Claremont Review of Books. There are limits to how far a collection of essays can drive a single thesis or theme, and the parts of this book are often greater than the whole. Still, the individual essays demonstrate why Piereson is one of the foremost political and cultural critics writing today. He brings to bear a sharp and penetrating intellect on arenas—such as higher education, politics, economics, and philanthropy—that he knows both as a theorist and as a man of action.

The End of an Era

American political history can be divided into three major chapters, according to Piereson: the age of Jefferson and Jackson (1800-1860); the age of capitalism and industrialism (1860-1930); and the modern age of Keynesianism at home and military intervention abroad (1930-present). Each of these chapters corresponds to a distinct political regime made possible by a broad national consensus on certain fundamental political commitments. The post-war political consensus was twofold:
(1) the national government would enact Keynesian economic policies to promote full employment at home and (2) the American military and diplomatic corps would intervene strategically in world affairs to promote democracy, capitalism, and free trade abroad.
Political regimes, like the men who create them, are allotted a finite number of days and often die in crisis. New regimes emerge to address unique historical challenges. Each of America’s political regimes, Piereson notes, “accomplished something important for the United States; each period lasted roughly a lifetime; and each was organized by a dominant political party: the Democrats in the antebellum era, the Republicans in the industrial era, and the Democrats again in the postwar era.” Major crises brought about the end of each era, and strong political leaders—Jefferson and Jackson, Lincoln, and FDR—built the coalitions that sustained the next regime.

Each of the nineteen chapters in Shattered Consensus investigates some aspect of the liberal post-war consensus, ranging from its political economy to its foreign policy and touching on the ideological polarization that now marks the worlds of politics, philanthropy and higher education. A major premise of Piereson’s book is that broad consensus “is required in order for a polity to meet its major challenges”; his thesis is that “such a consensus no longer exists in the United States.” Without a consensus on basic priorities, Piereson predicts, our “problems will mount to a point where either they will be addressed through a ‘fourth revolution’”—ushering in a fourth major chapter in American political history—“or the polity will begin to disintegrate for lack of fundamental commitment.”

The Coming Crisis

The next crisis will probably come about as a result of “debt, demography, and slowing economic growth, compounded by political polarization and inertia.” Although predicting the future is always dangerous, the next crisis is an undeniably predictable one. We have known for years about the economic and political cliff looming before us.


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