The ringing endorsement of the Democrats in the 2008 election led by their chief cheer leader ― the pied piper from Illinois, Barack Obama ― has uplifted principle in politics only to leave those following him drowning in the despair of incommensurate and inadequate action at the water’s edge.
The President is expecting that his rousing rhetoric will at best produce the needed reforms to the Franco-German left, reminiscent of Reagan’s and Thatcher’s to the right, as long as he articulates principle, or at worst restore the status quo to the time before Bush took office, finishing the unfinished Clinton business of crisis management without any economic reforms and exiting from Iraq and Afghanistan. The “change we believe in” appears to be to turn back the Bush clock and because, in politics, change in either direction is not easy, the stalemate is the political expediency of the status quo: to change nothing except abroad, in Europe, to slow down the competitors if we cannot get our act together in our moment of weakness and vulnerability.
That status quo, if only we can convince the people to bear the prolonged pain that could ensue, will still be okay for the United States. Albeit unacceptable, it could still end up becoming the Hobson’s choice. America will become a country after its namesake by 2050: Amerigo Vespucci. Similar to today’s Rome, not Caesar’s, contrary to the delusions of the neocons at the American Enterprise Institute.
The reason to change is not that the country, in spite of any major negative shocks to either energy or the dollar which are indeed possible, could be incapacitated but because not changing beginning now can make life after 2050 far worse than what it could be if we changed. The Italian state of America by 2050 if we pursue the path of the status quo could become the Greek state of today after 2050. The clock will indeed be turned back, not to the glory of antiquity but to its ruins, first to Rome and then to Athens, in the precise order of the big crunch of western civilization.
Just as after the birth of the United States, which became independent from Britain only to ironically expand the geopolitical sphere of the English language over the next 200 years, every American in a few generations adopted English as the lingua franca, so will the decline of the West as comprised by the countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) by this century’s end, in a few generations, will replace English most likely with Chinese. The pain of decline will be prolonged and deep, even if it may be economically comfortable, because of cultural change. Whether to experience that change is the choice western societies have to make now.
The choice they make will determine the cultural texture of global integration: it could either be a cultural mosaic intermediated by the English language if English speaking countries reform or a world intermediated by the Chinese language and culture, a costly change, only enabled because of the Chinese angst for regaining their lost respect. And after the Chinese are gone, similar to the West but in a far smaller period of time, the world will muddle along once again by 2150.
The lack of action now is largely due to complacency and the inability to see the world beyond 2050. The complacency is because money has displaced the military. The shock and agony of large global conflagrations has always been a far bigger motivator for change than economic shocks. Money has dumbed down the desire for meaningful change, the lack of which will put off global order by at least a century and making attaining that order far more difficult upon the next paradigmatic shift because of dwindling resources and larger populations. This does not mean that another large war is needed, but that money must become smarter in how it shapes the geopolitical order.