The New Moderate’s Vigilance List: Our Annual Update
What do we moderates have to worry about? Plenty. After all, if you’re a moderate, trouble comes at you from both sides. To make matters even more interesting, our sources of trouble keep changing from year to year.
I’ve been updating The New Moderate’s Vigilance List each June to reflect our current jitters. Some items may have moved up or down the rankings or dropped off entirely; others are still glaring at us, unimproved and unrelenting (see #1). And you’ll notice a couple of ominous newcomers, too.
Anyway, without further eloquence, let me unveil the latest list of things we need to be concerned about, in numerical order — complete with last year’s ranking for comparison. It’s a personal list, of course, but I hope it’s an instructive one. Feel free to agree, disagree, or come up with your own items that belong on the Vigilance List.
1. The Great Recession. (Last year: #1). The light at the end of the tunnel turned out to be a mirage. (At least it wasn’t the headlight of an onrushing train.) Unemployment is up again, corporations are still exporting jobs with impunity, and Americans are sinking deeper into debt. The stock market is stagnant, real estate is kaput and there’s nowhere else to grow our assets these days. So what gives? Experts have been talking about V-shaped, W-shaped, L-shaped and even square root-shaped recoveries, so it’s obvious that nobody knows when this nightmare will be over. There’s even talk of a Japanese-style “lost decade” for the American economy. Or we might just be witnessing the irreversible decline of the American empire. Trend: In a holding pattern, and all the more alarming the longer it lingers.
2. Obama’s inaction on the economy. (New this year) Say what? This item wasn’t even on the list in 2010, and here it is suddenly at #2. Let me explain. Last year at this time, we expected to be pulling out of our recession — or at least notice some discernible improvement. Now we’ve entered the second phase of our double dip, a dip that could last indefinitely if unchecked. Adam Smith’s free market can no longer be trusted to right itself — let alone salvage our economy — because we’re no longer dealing with a pure capitalist system. It’s a corporatist system. Driven by the need to beat Wall Street expectations every quarter, publicly owned corporations will continue to outsource any new jobs to cheap labor markets overseas. That devastating little quirk sets us up for perpetual job woes here in the U.S. In effect, it’s 1933 all over again. Laissez faire is no longer an option. The federal government must intervene now with job creation programs, because the private sector simply isn’t doing it. Where’s Obama, the purveyor of hope and change? Branded as a socialist by the right, he’s turned out to be the ultimate elite establishment liberal: nominally progressive but a little too comfy-and-cozy with big-money interests. Do I want him to nationalize what’s left of American industry? Of course not. But I’d like him to invoke his inner FDR, risk the ire of conservatives and unions alike, and launch 21st-century versions of the WPA, NRA, CCC and other alphabet-soup programs that will put unemployed Americans to work until we gain some broad-based economic momentum. (That means not just the rich getting richer.) Caution can be a virtue in a leader, but not when people’s lives and futures are unraveling. Obama must act, and act now. Trend: anyone’s guess… Obama is an enigma.
3. The federal deficit. (Last year: #4) Yes, the colossal American deficit is officially a crisis now. Everyone is aware of the problem, but nobody is doing anything about it. We’re so seriously indebted to China that we’ve essentially become its vassal state, and our benefactor is starting to throw its weight around. At the same time, we still need to start spending on urgent items like job creation. Where will the money come from when we’re already in hock up to our national armpits? Here’s a start: slash military spending and foreign aid. Dramatically. (In an economic crisis, the needs of Americans must come first. The military is powerless to defeat terrorist armies, anyway.) The government would also be wise to start trimming all those plush federal pensions. The IRS needs to busy itself collecting a fair share of taxes from huge corporations. No loopholes. Stop state-sponsored corporate welfare (like reimbursing Goldman Sachs for 100% of its investment losses). And yes, it’s time to end the Bush-era tax cuts for the rich. No compromises, Mr. President… just do it. Trend: Screaming for help.
4. Plutocracy. (Last year: #3) Now that we’ve glimpsed the unsightly innards of Wall Street and government-by-lobby, we can no longer deny that the U.S. is a plutocracy. Simply stated, that means too few people command too much power and wealth. We’re a nominally liberal democratic republic ruled by a small, self-entitled, self-perpetuating elite that makes its power felt on Wall Street and K Street (home to Washington’s lobbyist community). When even a certified progressive like President Obama bows to investment banks and the pharmaceutical industry, you know we’re in trouble. Trend: Holding steady.
5. Environmental destruction. (Last year: #12) The disastrous Gulf oil spill of 2010 catapulted this issue into our consciousness once again, and that much-publicized incident turned out to be just the tip of the metaphorical iceberg. Americans tend to overlook the ongoing destruction of remote rainforests, coral reefs, rivers and wetlands (not to mention the wild creatures that inhabit them) because most of the destruction is taking place far from our back yards. Eventually we’ll realize that we’ve ransacked a wondrous planet, but by then it will be too late to do anything about it. (And we’re not equipped to start colonizing distant planets just yet.) We need to work toward establishing and enforcing international environmental regulations, because the Earth belongs to all of us. Trend: Increasing, with no end in sight.
6. Radical Islam. (Last year: #2) Two important things have happened since 2010 to drop this item further down the list: the spontaneous, unanticipated and hearteningly secular “Arab Spring” revolts that have been sweeping across the Muslim world… and the termination of terrorist honcho Osama bin Laden. Radical Islam is still a threat wherever it exists, but the Arab Spring has revealed that vast numbers of Arabs (and especially young Arabs) aspire to the freedom and liberality of Western cultures. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the revolution is struggling to prevail in more benighted corners of the region, and that the jihadists still wield significant power. Look for more terrorist incidents as the crumbling old guard flails at its adversaries. But the Arab world is no longer a monochromatic picture of reactionary religious fanaticism, and that’s cause for celebration. Trend: Set for a long-term decline despite predictable (and increasingly isolated) flare-ups of Islamist fervor.
7. Multiple endless wars. (New this year) We’ve been fighting in Afghanistan for a decade now, with no endgame in sight, and we’re still ensconced in Iraq. Now we’re participating in airstrikes over Libya and conducting a covert war in Yemen. Even a madman like Hitler only fought on two fronts, and it was more than his crackerjack military could handle. How many military engagements can we manage simultaneously without breaking ourselves? How can we justify risking still more American lives in dead-end conflicts? Afghanistan seemed like a noble enterprise at first, but it’s finally clear that we’re stuck in a quagmire comparable to Vietnam. We still haven’t learned that guerrilla fighters never surrender; they have no infrastructure to bomb and no capital to occupy, so we’d have to gun them down to the last man. And when we can’t trust the “legitimate” government we’re fighting for, it’s time to cut the cord. The United States simply can’t control and fine-tune all world events to its specifications. That’s a surefire prescription for a fatal overextension of our resources.
8. Illegal immigration. (Last year: #7) Call me a “nativist” if you like, but I don’t think the mass incursion of undocumented Hispanic immigrants bodes well for our national health. Given the disparity in birth rates betweeen the native-born and Hispanic immigrant populations, the U.S. will increasingly take on the attributes of a Latin American nation. That means a less-educated populace and an ever-widening gap between rich and poor, with the added element of cultural friction between Anglos and Latinos. (On the plus side, at least we might get into the salubrious habit of taking siestas.) We don’t need to overreact, but we shouldn’t just be rolling over and accepting the new order. We need to make the U.S. less appealing as a destination for illegal immigrants. Trend: The number of new illegal immigrants has declined somewhat, but their population within the U.S. (including their undocumented children) continues to grow at a rapid clip.
9. Outsourcing and downsizing. (Last year: #10) Sure, let’s export all our manufacturing and white-collar jobs to help the struggling populations of developing nations. How altruistic of our big corporations! Meanwhile, all those jobless Americans won’t have the money to buy all those imported goods. We need to reward companies for keeping their jobs in the U.S. and punish them for going abroad. I’d gladly pay slightly higher prices for U.S.-produced goods, wouldn’t you? As for downsizing, it’s time we abandoned the warped perception that corporations exist solely to make money for their investors… they need to honor their stakeholders (including employees), not just their shareholders. Trend: Still unchecked.
10. Cultural degeneracy. (Last year: #6) Movies, TV, pop music, video games and high art have combined to forge a decadent culture that worships all the most loathsome and idiotic idols. Do I believe in having fun? Absolutely. (This isn’t The New Puritan, after all.) But we also need to restore respect and affection for the nobler virtues, or we’ll crumble, as the Romans did, from internal and external assaults that we’re too weak to withstand. Do I sound like an alarmist? You bet. Trend: Still increasing, but bumped down the list by even more urgent issues.
11. The Great Demographic Shift. (New this year) It’s a given that wealthy and middle-class folks have fewer children than poor people, but the gap has already reached crisis proportions in Europe and we’re looking at a similar trend in the U.S. On top of that, medical advances are boosting our life expectancies so that we can now look forward, on average, to 15 years of retirement. (When Social Security arrived on the scene in the 1930s, the average American didn’t even make it to retirement age.) How will a stricken and shrinking middle class support burgeoning numbers of poor and elderly Americans? Don’t ask me; I’m just the messenger, not a prognosticator. But my personal recommendation is that middle-class folks start ditching the birth control while poor people start discovering it. Trend: Increasing, especially over the long term.
12. Potential class warfare. (Last year: #14) The old American class hierarchy with its nearly invisible boundaries is splitting, like some great ice sheet, into upper and lower castes as mid-status jobs trickle away. Educated elites will continue to marry among themselves and produce increasingly elite offspring with formidable SAT scores. Downward mobility is already becoming a way of life for the rest of us. The two castes will despise each other, naturally… and resentments will simmer until they start bubbling over. Trend: You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
13. Manmade global warming. (Last year: #15) When we have to navigate the streets of New York and London by gondola, maybe the skeptics will finally believe. Unfortunately, this subject appears to be owned by zealots with a vested interest in promoting their faith. (Witness the recently exposed cover-up of “inconvenient” data that contradicted global warming.) We need to hear unbiased, purely scientific opinions on the subject, if such a thing is possible. Still, the empirical evidence is convincing enough: steadily retreating glaciers, earlier spring blooming seasons and crazy-violent weather (like the catastrophic 2011 tornado season). Trend: Heating up, just like the planet.
14. Polarization. (Last year: #5) What a difference a year makes! During the 2010 campaigns, strident and divisive Tea Partiers seemed to be in the catbird seat. Sarah Palin was gathering momentum for a presidential bid. Glenn Beck ruled the airwaves. And the snooty rancor emanating from the left only aggravated the problem. What happened? Conservatives won their predictable victories in November, so they could no longer position themselves as an insurgency of outsiders. Palin never quite recovered from having targeted Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on her infamous “crosshairs” map. Beck lost listeners and found himself expelled from key markets. Yes, moderate candidates still face formidable obstacles within their own parties, but the extremists no longer dominate the public dialogue the way they did last year. Trend: Declining, at least for now.
15. Political correctness. (Last year: #8) For a while it looked as if the PC police were a resurgent force in our polarized red-blue culture. The melodramatic liberal-left overreaction to Arizona’s immigration law was a case in point. The sensitivities of militant special-interest “communities” (blacks, gays, feminists, Native Americans, even the handicapped — see #17) still tend to stifle our freedom of speech, inadvertently or not. And of course the world of academia, at least in the liberal arts, still falls under the dominion of dedicated multiculti leftists. But given all the other hot issues on our Vigilance List, I’ve had to drop political correctness down several notches. Trend: Still with us, but hardly worth any loss of sleep at this point.
16. Racism. (Last year: #11) And I mean black racism as well as white racism. The U.S. is far too race-conscious as a society, and we’re much too inclined to close ranks with our skin-brothers when trouble is brewing. Sure, it’s human nature to instinctively favor our own group, but it’s time to override our instincts and think about impartial justice instead. End of sermon. Trend: Still cooling off after some high-profile flare-ups back in 2009 (the Henry Louis Gates arrest, the Philadelphia swim club incident, the New Black Panthers, Glenn Beck’s race-related tirades against Obama). But have we entered a post-racial America? Nope.
17. “Community”-based allegiance. (New this year) It used to be, in a more innocent time, that nearly all Americans identified themselves as Americans, plain and simple. Yes, we came from a multitude of backgrounds, and we honored our ancestors, but our allegiance to the Stars and Stripes trumped everything else. It also used to be that a community was the place where you lived, plain and simple. You made your home in your community and enjoyed the cozy feeling of belonging there. No longer: now we’ve splintered into a motley assemblage of special-identity “communities” based on race, politics, gender and sexual orientation. We identify with our identity group, plain and simple. We align ourselves politically with the interests of our group, which are generally one-sided, frequently narcissistic and increasingly oblivious to the fact that all of us are Americans. This is a dangerous development, and we should keep an eye on it. Whatever we do, let’s not start thinking of ourselves as members of the “moderate community.” Agreed? Trend: Developing slowly, but probably approaching a tipping point.
Bumped from the list: The angry white Religious Right (#9 last year); Creeping socialism (#12 last year). Gone but not forgotten.