By Sarah Palmer
America is seeing the beginning of a monumental time-test over the direction of the country that will roll through the November election and into 2012, said Rich Lowry, editor of the “National Review,” during a press conference Sept. 29 before the Union Forum.
Speaking on the upcoming elections and current political climate, Lowry said the struggle was between limited government — conservatism — and progressivism that wants to grow American government as much as possible on a European model.
The Union Forum is a special event held every fall and spring so the Jackson community can have the opportunity to hear from and dialogue with national and cultural leaders, said Landon Preston, director of donor relations and development, and coordinator for the event. The forum is sponsored by local businesses, and approximately 300 guests filled the Carl Grants Event Center.
At the beginning of the forum, Lowry said he wanted to first describe what he thought was happening in the elections this year, and second to talk about what “broader stakes” are in America’s political and cultural battles today.
Lowry said the Democrats are suffering from three major things: ideological grandiosity, cynical opportunism and a program that has not worked.
Under the subject of these topics, Lowry discussed numerous issues. He said after the November 2008 election, Democrats believed they had received a “mandate from heaven” to do whatever they wanted. He also said he believes President Barack Obama is suffering from “hubris” — exaggerated pride or self-confidence — which Lowry said he believes will lead to Obama’s downfall in November.
Lowry criticized the stimulus bill and health care reform, which he said has nothing to do with the economy and will actually suppress job creation.
“(Democrats) used (the stimulus bill) as an opportunity to stuff in every spending priority that had been clogged up in Congress for the last 15 years,” Lowry said.
Lowry said he thinks the Democrats’ program has not worked — and never will work, in his opinion.
“Government-deficit spending will not help economic growth,” Lowry said. “What we’ve learned is that you can spend a heck of a lot of money and it’s not going to make private business any more likely to hire, it’s not going to make banks any more likely to lend, and it’s not going to keep people from saving more and deleveraging themselves and healing their balance books after a tremendous consumption-drive spree.”
He said the government leadership is operating under the basis of delusion.
Lowry also said that international policy is operated under a similar delusion, through “the brotherhood of man” idea that everyone can meet together and come to conclusions.
Moving on from the sufferings of the Democrats, Lowry spoke on the broader stakes of the political climate.
“We really have a contest in this country over whether this nation is an exceptional nation or not, and how we’re going to go about protecting it — and whether we will at all,” he said.
He went on to discuss why America is so special through describing the “four aspects of American exceptionalism.”
First, Lowry said the United States is a commercial nation. He said since the beginning of this nation, it has been based on profit and “concerned with creating national wealth through commerce.” He called the “The Declaration of Independence” and Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” the two foundations of American liberalism, which is “not ideological liberalism but traditional, classical liberalism.
“The free market has always been written into the DNA of this country, and there’s never been anything wrong in this country with making a profit,” Lowry said.
Second, he said America has always had a middle-class society concerned with individual advancement. He said the country always had the “promise of American capitalism and the promise of advancement,” and quoted Abraham Lincoln: “I hold the value of life is to improve one’s condition.”
Third, Lowry said the country has always been concerned with fostering national strength and projecting the strength abroad.
“Every time in the history of this country when we have been attacked by an adversary … our response has always been to hit back with maximum force and with maximum reasonable effort to spread our system abroad,” Lowry said.
The fourth and final aspect of American exceptionalism is achieving freedom through limited government. He said American government has always been smaller and had less control than other advanced countries, and that is why it is freer.
“So, that’s American exceptionalism,” Lowry said. “We have a country that’s Congress-loving, that’s striving, that’s forceful in defense of its interests and of freedom, and that’s suspicious of government.”
He said America is now under a wave of progressivism that is eroding its exceptionalism.
“We have a monumental contest in this country over whether a limited government — conservatism — that wants at all costs to protect this exceptionalism prevails, or a progressivism that believes a European-style model represents true justice will prevail or not,” Lowry said. “ … This is what the current political debate is about, this is what it will be about going forward, this is why we’ve seen the rise of the Tea Party movement.”
He ended his speech by, once again, quoting Lincoln: “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and its finisher. As a nation of free men, we must live through all time or die by suicide.”
However, Lowry said, “It is my profound belief that this country will resolve to live.”
Lowry’s speech was met with mixed reviews.
“I thought he was a good representation of one of the prominent strains of modern conservative thought in America,” said Dr. Hal Poe, Charles Colson professor of faith & culture, theology & missions. “He essentially repudiated traditional conservatism, and he represented a growing thought (of conservatism) that is not really focused on virtue and traditional values, but primarily focused on financial issues.”
Dr. Hunter Baker, senior associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and associate professor of political science, said he though Lowry delivered a “bare-knuckled” political review. He also said it was “stimulating” and “pretty strong stuff,” and although the audience may have not agreed with him or were taken aback by his comments, that is to be expected with the nature of the speaker.
“It was valuable to hear his perspective,” Baker said. “It’s good to have the opportunity to hear from somebody who has a lot of Washington experience, and is constantly in the battle. His remarks reflect that.
He’s somewhat combative and assertive in some of the things that he said. That’s the nature of what he does, that’s what National Review is, and has always been about.”