In Washington the two parties have been fighting bitterly over the confirmation of President Bushs judicial nominees. The Republicans may resort to the nuclear option to prevent Democratic filibustering and other obstructive tactics. The Democrats call Bushs nominees radical.
I hardly know which side is more risible. Both parties blow their noses on the U.S. Constitution, so it hardly makes any difference which controls the judiciary. The Democrats are somewhat worse, which doesnt mean the Republicans are good. To call the Republicans radical is to pay them a compliment they have done nothing to deserve.
The Democrats, whether they admit it or not, want judges who will declare homosexuality and same-sex marriage constitutional rights. But the Republicans favor unconstitutional Federal entitlements, expanded executive powers (Homeland Security, the USA PATRIOT Act, et cetera), and of course undeclared war. George W. Bush makes Bill Clinton look like Thomas Jefferson.
The real American is all right, said G.K. Chesterton. It is the ideal American who is all wrong. Today the ideal American wants to impose his false ideal of democracy on the rest of the world. But to most of the world American democracy, supported by American weaponry, appears an alarming thing.
What happened to the country we used to love and the world used to admire? For many years it was a country of implicit understandings about freedom and the good life. The government seemed to accept its limits and respect our desire to be left alone.
But as new forms of tyranny exploded abroad, our own politicians got ideas too. The concentration of power, economic dirigisme, high taxes, a mania for equality, and world empire became accepted as enlightened principles. Gradually, America became a profoundly different country. We hardly noticed it happening.
Today we take topless spending and bottomless debt for granted. American military forces are now stationed in more than a hundred countries around the world. At home, meanwhile, smoking and obesity are problems for the government to solve.
The older America venerated its inventors, creative men like Thomas Edison and Henry Ford who enriched us all. We were grateful to medical men like Jonas Salk, who found cures for dreaded diseases. Today we honor politicians, especially those who, like Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, got us into the bloodiest wars and enlarged the power and scope of government.
That older America also loved gentle humor and melodic music. It hardly needs saying that our tastes have coarsened remarkably in these areas, along with our public morality. Much of the blame for this, Im afraid, lies with the American Catholic Church, which, since the Second Vatican Council in the Sixties, has ceased to exert the gravitational force it did when I was a child, even as government has joined the mammoth entertainment industry in marginalizing all religion.
I spent only a few days in the hospital, but it might almost have been half a century. Maybe it was that Id been largely insulated from the media; but when I left, I was, for whatever reason, acutely conscious of how startlingly the country had changed during my lifetime. The monstrous growth of the government had been accompanied by a paganization we couldnt have imagined fifty years ago.
Would my fathers generation have fought for this country in World War II if they could have foreseen the America of 2005? Despite the current celebration of the good war, I seriously doubt it. They thought they were fighting for a way of life that has now vanished, destroyed by politics and cultural decay. Maybe it was already doomed, and the war only hastened its destruction.
Tens of millions died in the good war, probably including a Gershwin or an Edison, to say nothing of the misery of countless ordinary people. There is nothing about it to celebrate, unless youre a politician who profits by the new order that arose in its ruins and survives today. Politicians love to commemorate wars, the men who died in them, and above all the politicians who started them.
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