Friday, October 15, 2004

Trying to Overcome Our Past

Daniel Henninger, writing at OpinionJournal, explains why "Change Is Inevitably Not Popular." Here's his key point:
...After three presidential debates, it is clear that George Bush is asking the American people to make[an] abrupt break with the comforts of the political past. Proposals such as Social Security privatization or individually run health-savings accounts are not being offered as just an intriguing "policy" alternative. These ideas are an historic necessity to surviving in the world economy as it exists today.

Intellectually, the case for making the leap is compelling. Emotionally, the way forward is less obvious. Most Americans have already adjusted to the disturbing realities of Iraq and of waging--and leading--a war on global terror. But it's quite a lot to ask them in the same election to step away from 50 or more years of federally guaranteed social protection. That would have been large without Iraq and terror.

The Kerry campaign is riding on the belief that the American electorate, at the margins in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, isn't ready to make the break. And they may be right. That to me is the meaning of the relentlessly close poll results that persist in this election. John Kerry is a fundamentally weak presidential candidate, but about half the electorate is uncertain whether it is able to sign up for all the risk and uncertainty implicit in the next Bush presidency.
That's what 100 years of regulation and 70 years of welfare dependency will do to you. As Henninger says,
Back in the 1920s, Republicans won presidential elections with whopping 60% majorities. Calvin Coolidge presided over an economy growing at nearly 5% annually. A nation tied to business success was working. The Depression changed everything.
Very few Americans can remember the 1920s. Too many can remember the Depression and its legacy of misplaced faith in the regulatory-welfare state. It's not clear that we can overcome that dependency. Hang on for a bumpy ride.