One year ago yesterday, the Dow Jones Index fell 777.68 points. Today, we are fed contradictory propositions: The bailouts have saved us from another depression. And, the Republicans are poised to capitalize on growing public dissatisfaction with the economic policies of the Democrats. Both propositions are false.
Long time Wall Street observer, Richard Russell recently wrote: “Fed Chairman Benjamin S. Bernanke is like a madman during a hurricane. He’s shaking his fist at the sky and vowing to stop the wind.” Of course, Bernanke is doing more than that; he is claiming he has stopped the wind. More than a few agree he has.
When the calm eye of this economic hurricane passes and economic storms rage again, it is a dubious proposition that the public will turn back to the Republicans. Of course, some diehard partisans will. But for many more, the Republicans have been discredited as a pro-war, big deficit, corporate welfare loving, hypocritical bunch. If you said that description fits the Democrats as well, you’d get no argument from me.
We are at two major inflection points in history. We have come to the end of the road for our deficit-based economy. More wasteful stimulus will not bring to life this dead horse. We have also come to the end of the road for this fake wrestling match between Democrats and Republicans, where the party out of power promises to reform the evils committed by the party in power; then, once in power, commits to a variation of the same positions they campaigned against. As in professional wrestling, promoters have to keep changing the good guys and the bad guys in order to keep the public interested. As my brother-in-law once quipped bitingly at a family outing: “It’s time to get new characters for this show.”
No, the Democrats and Republicans, however discredited, will not disappear overnight. But, they will face new competition. First, the good news: There will be at least one major pro-freedom party—led by a Ron Paul type individual. This party will be for both economic and civil liberties. They will stand for lower taxes and lower spending; they’ll stand against needless military adventures. We can thank the Libertarian Party for tilling this soil for so many years. Yet, for various reasons, I don’t see the Libertarian Party emerging to occupy this ground. The pro-freedom party that emerges will also have to touch people’s hearts.
Most Americans alive today have grown up experiencing a world untouched by war and economic hardship. It is understandable that we believe life will always get better. When economic losses and deprivations beyond our imagination visit us, we will be bewildered; leaders of a pro-freedom party will have to respond to Americans with heartfelt compassion. At the same time, these leaders will have to point the way to a hopeful future based upon timeless principles. Such pro-freedom leaders will have to counter a new populist-based movement that will insist Americans are never to suffer loses; this, the populists will claim, is our entitlement. The new populist-based movement will promise cheap fixes and more income redistribution. To shift attention away from problems at home, populists may follow an aggressive foreign policy.
In my experience, many Americans lack a basic understanding of the history of poverty and war that has routinely plagued mankind. The suffering of others has been swept from view, because we don’t want to deal with the possibilities of suffering for ourselves. In his book The Three Marriages, David Whyte writes:
Once we have renounced the need to live without suffering, to be special, to be exempt from the losses and doubts that have afflicted all people since the beginning of time, we can see the difficulties of others without being afraid ourselves. Our fearful, disappointed surface face starts to fall away. We could welcome other people into our lives because no matter their fears, they do not make us afraid.
This journey—the journey of accepting our losses without lashing out, while working towards a genuine and lasting prosperity—will take spiritual maturity. Such a spiritual maturity would involve a deep understanding of our connection to all living beings. We must understand that our choice to live by higher values and timeless principles is the pathway to achieve true happiness and sustainable prosperity.
It would be a mistake to believe that, at this point in our history, most Americans are prepared to make such a journey. Many are. Still, many are not. And for those who are not, the coming great splintering of our political parties will produce populist leaders who will tell them what they want to hear: That there is a quick fix, and that others are to blame. Some of these leaders will be comparably benign; others will be frighteningly demagogic and warlike.
Beyond envisioning serious competition for Democrats and Republicans, I have no idea what our political future holds. If an election were held today between Obama, McCain, a comparably benign populist such as Palin, and a pro-freedom leader such as Ron Paul, my guess is that Obama would win again. In 2012, there will be choices on the political spectrum that we never expected to see; the results will depend upon how spiritually mature our nation has become.