The Tilt Back to the Middle

Posted on September 29, 2015

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Not too long ago I expressed an opinion about which grand principle has ruled in our world over our three hundred or so years of life as a people: liberty, or equality? I came down on the side of liberty.

And apparently I am running in good company. A new book about to be published later this month, a biography of Henry Kissinger, Kissinger, 1923-1968: The Idealist, very persuasively puts him into the camp of liberty and freedom as the unique contributions of America to the world. In fact, the commitment of America to liberty was its key asset in world affairs.

I was reminded of all this while reading another book recently on the nation on the eve of and during the Second World War. We were just coming out of a deep depression and were still very much wedded to the traditional economic, social, and political liberties imbedded not only into our Constitution but also as interpreted by law and confirmed by practice over the years.

But the New Deal, with a very activist agenda to increase government in the affairs of men and nation, was changing the social and economic landscape.

The Depression deeply frightened people who were thrown out of work, left homeless and often penniless by a crashing stock market, bank failures, falling farm prices and massive unemployment.

Kicked off by a tremendous stock market crash in 1929, the Depression knocked the wind out of the country. The new President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, elected in 1932, met the challenge by projecting the massive power of government into economic and social affairs to meet the seemingly inexorable and destructive steamrolling of the Depression.

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” he told millions of Americans listening to their radios to his Inaugural address. Roosevelt started the ball rolling by closing all the banks for a bank holiday in March, 1933.

From then until the end of the decade when the world rapidly slid down into the pit of another world war, the “New Deal” stepped into the dark hole of the Depression with light and hope, social security, the protection of labor unions, regulation of the stock market and banks, and in dozens of other ways, the New Deal intervened in social and economic affairs to restore hope and vitality.

Ironically, perhaps, it was the war effort that began in 1939-1940 and exploded in a frenzy of military and industrial expansion after the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, that finally put everyone back to work and ended the Depression.

But the genie—the government—was out of the bottle. For the next half century many looked to the government to make things right, to solve social and economic problems and inequities, to be essentially the real driver in the driver’s seat of who and what makes this country work.

Much good was accomplished. The Civil Rights movement is but one example that owes much to the green lights turned on by the government, such as the Brown vs. Board of Education decision of the Supreme Court in 1954 which struck down the basis and argument for segregation.

By the late twentieth century, especially during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, one began to sense a push back by many people who elected Reagan twice. Instead of embracing equality and government with total commitment, Reagan began to restore liberty as the engine which drives the country.

Labels are thrown around freely like socialism, communism, capitalism, tyranny (of the majority, or of the minority), and the subject is complex. Religion comes to play a major role. Think the “moral majority” that helped Reagan get elected, and it too is a stakeholder on how the country is organized and run.

But at the core of politics today it seems to me that there is a swing back towards the middle, away from government-has-all-the-solutions, to the liberty and freedom of the individual, acting alone or in concert with others, to determine what is best for the country.

I think the “Trump phenomenon,” referring to Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy, reflects this swing. Whatever you think of Trump, or any of the other political candidates for that matter, he is, for now at any rate, the spokesman for a radical break from the Obama’s administration’s expansion of the principles of the New Deal.

By this time next fall we may be seeing a race between two women, Carly Fiorina and Hillary Clinton, for the presidency. Or pick any other two of your favorite candidates. And in the election of 2016, if my reading of the tea leaves holds true, the one who embraces liberty most fully and faithfully will win.

This column published in my OpEd as The Country Tilting Back Towards the Middle in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday September 27, 2015

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