For most of my adult life, I have only claimed two men as heroes, Pat Buchanan and Ric Flair.
It's never been a secret that I'm a huge pro wrestling fan, and in admiring the world's greatest pro wrestler, I suppose Flair's character has always been the perfect extension of my own shallow fantasies. What red-blooded American male would not want to jet-set across the country, wear custom suits, eat gourmet food, drink fine wines, and enjoy the company of even finer women?
While the kid in me still admires Flair's cartoonish version of lavish living, the seemingly unsustainable concept of "unlimited growth" is a fantasy many Americans have long considered their birthright. Writes my other hero, Pat Buchanan, "For years, we Americans have spent more than we earned. We save nothing. Credit card debt, consumer debt, auto debt, mortgage debt, corporate debt — all are at record levels ... Our standard of living is inevitably going to fall ... We are going to have to learn to live again without our means. The party's over."
Buchanan is correct. And yet, what the arch-conservative rightly calls the Wall Street crash of 2008 has been portrayed by the Left as the failure of conservatism. When managing America's finances, it's hard to imagine any economist describing exploding deficits, expanding budgets, and endless credit as "conservative." And yet the Left does have a point.
Consider the argument made by Andrew J. Bacevich in his new book The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. Bacevich notes that during the gas shortage scare of 1979, Democratic President Jimmy Carter addressed the nation with the following: "Too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption ... There are two paths to choose. One is a path ... that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility."
Carter's other path included a six-point program toward energy independence not unlike what both John McCain and Barack Obama are touting. Carter also told America that "there [was] simply no way to avoid sacrifice."
Ronald Reagan said not only no, but hell no, and attacked Carter for being a president who had the nerve to "tell us we must learn to live with less."
Writes Bacevich, "Beguiling his fellow citizens with talk of 'morning in America,' Reagan added to America's civic religion two crucial beliefs: credit has no limits, and the bills will never come due."
Bacevich notes that when Carter was in office, the federal deficit had averaged $54.5 billion annually. Under Reagan, the deficit averaged $210.6 billion, while spending doubled from $590.9 billion in 1980 to $1.14 trillion in 1989. Government grew. So did the economy, which made Reagan one of the most popular presidents in American history.
But are we paying now for the unlimited growth?
I grew up in a household where Reagan was a hero and Carter was a cuss word. But it appears that Carter has been proven right — as both Republicans and Democrats are now mouthing the same advice the unpopular president once tried to give his own country. There's nothing conservative about living beyond your means, and it seems the problems we have now are the direct result of this country's refusal to practice economic conservatism.
Ric Flair's heyday began in the 1980s when he enjoyed the same financial success his country did. Today, the 59-year-old Republican wrestler has recognized his limits; he retired from the ring and now earns a living primarily from autograph signings and personal appearances.
After decades spent as the world's reigning economic champion, America may finally be down for the count. It needs to awaken from this fantasy world of its own making.
How happy and healthy we remain will depend entirely on how wisely we approach the future. It has been said that "to be the man, you've got to beat the man," but sometimes you also have to pay the man. And as we are now learning the hard way, America's exorbitant price might be too much to bear.
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