During the drive back to FOB Borepatch, I had a lot of time to think. Just what is it that's most important about this election? What is it that's "must have", and what is it that's "nice to have"? What will make or break the next two decades? After all, Napoleon said that on any battlefield is a single decisive point. Anything that happens there is everything; anything that happens elsewhere is nothing. So what's the single point of decision on this electoral battlefield?
I think that it's the clash between two views. One side has been ascendant for decades, with a brief intermission during Ronald Reagan's first term. This side believes that experts should run things, that experts should make decisions, and that the population is too dim witted to be allowed much in the way of independent course of action. This takes the form of large government departments issuing vast reams of regulations, it takes the form of a "living" Constitution that means pretty much what the elite want, it takes the form of Congress passing hundreds of new felony laws each year, it takes the form of a large increase in the cost of government. Whether that is paid by you and me, or by our children, or by the "1%" is pretty much irrelevant to the overall world view. While individuals have their own preferences, the overall goal is centralization of power in the hands of a self-selected elite.
The other side is basically the traditional American philosophy of limited government, with enumerated powers granted by the People to the government. It's the American philosophy that was able to build the Empire State Building in 29 months and to build a two-ocean Navy and simultaneously beat the Nazi and Imperial Japanese supermen. It's the American philosophy that put a man on the moon and brought him home safely, all in the span of a decade. It's the American philosophy that did it not because it was easy, but because it was hard.
This is a conflict of world views, very much like the Cold War. Communism collapsed suddenly and completely, but for decades it looked like it might have been the side to bet on. The reason is that all the data that we could use to compare the performance of the West against the performance of the Warsaw Pact was cooked - by the commies. Reagan went very much against the conventional wisdom when he decided that we were going to win, and they were going to lose. Even the CIA thought that the USSR was the second or third most powerful economy. Reagan forced the issue, and the balloon popped, leaving the illegitimacy and incompetence of the system exposed for all to see.
So who will do this in 2012? Because that is the most important priority. The critical point on the battlefield is destroying the elite's image of competence, because without that, there's no justification for them to get more power. Everything else, while perhaps desirable, is irrelevant. So here's my scorecard for who's doing this right now.
He's the most effective at this, so far. He may be crazy as a coot on foreign policy, he may be racist (unlikely) or incompetent (probably) with the newsletter thing, but he's by far the most effective in getting this message across: you should be the captain of your soul, not some self-important busybody. Even the apolitical #1 Son mentioned that he might vote for Ron. And quite frankly, there's no question whether Paul would slash the size and power of government. That clarity, in fact, is his biggest asset.
Newt comes with a lot of baggage, part of which is a tendency to become a bit professorial. Not a surprise, as he was a professor, but we can be forgiven for being a little leery of another Professor-in-Chief. However, Newt understands that the battle is our world view vs. theirs. I've posted before on the ideas which cut through the elite vision, but this is a simply outstanding (if long) recitation on the Second Amendment's proper role in America's history, and of the respective roles of the citizen and the political elite. It's worth watching in full:
There is no question where he stands on this issue. There's no question as to whether he can flay the muscle from the bone of the elite world view of ever more centralized control.
I expect that he understands the American vision. I'm not convinced that he can articulate it, or do more than delay the elite's power grabs until Europe is done collapsing. At that point, their world view takes a substantial - but perhaps not fatal - hit. In short, it's not clear that Perry is the right candidate to crush the elite's philosophy, and this is the point of decision.
Not going anywhere, despite his Iowa win/almost-win. He sold his platform with retail politics, going to thousands of meetings in 99 counties in Iowa over six months. He simply cannot do anything like that in the two weeks before New Hampshire, and then the next two until South Carolina.
He's a footnote, whether this is fair or not.
Whatever. Stick a fork in them.
Notice what Romney does not bring to his campaign? Anything that would undermine the mirage of elite competence. He is the elite, it's part of his image. While he likely would do less harm than Obama, he will leave the Elite Worldview entirely intact, and indeed will almost certainly aggressively expand its reach in some important ways.
Just as he did in Massachusetts with health care and the assault weapons ban.
Both Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich have serious baggage to overcome. Perry less so, and Romney perhaps least of all (with the bulk of the electorate, at least). But this is not about tactical maneuvering, this is about crushing the opposition's ability to enact their agenda. Go back and watch the video of Newt on the Second Amendment, and listen to his last sentence. Paul would try to say that (and might succeed - although not so brilliantly), Perry would try (and very well might fail). Mitt wouldn't even try.
Multiply this by the other issues that all revolve around the way to share power between individuals or the elite, and you'll see the same thing: Ron Paul and Newt being the only ones forcefully attacking the very foundation of the elite's self image - not as just being wrong, but Reagan-like, attacking it as illegitimate. As being unworthy of a great nation.
On every battlefield is a single decisive point, and moment, when the enemy will be met and can be overthrown. Fear must be cast aside, and all possible force committed there and then, regardless of the cost elsewhere. Our enemy bases all on his sense of intellectual and moral superiority. That is the battle, to discredit that. Our advantage is that they are incompetent and arrogant, and have given many obvious examples of how they are unfit to rule over us.
That is the battle. That is what we must win, or we face the long, slow twilight of extinction, as an increasingly powerful elite drives us into subservience. Their smug but fragile egos must be crushed, utterly.
And who knows? Maybe Paul or Newt might win. But the battle is over this: individual power, or elite control. We faced down the Soviet Bear, at the cost of blood and treasure. Before that, we sent millions of G.I. across two oceans and darkened the sky with our air fleets. Abraham Lincoln kept firing Generals until he found some that would fight. History tells us that America can be hurt, but if we stay true to our heritage, and like in days past simply refuse to give up, we will come out right side up.
We just need a General that sees the decisive point on the battle field, and who will fight.
Excellent work, I have to re-read it.
But, BP - question - could it be you are looking at this wrong?
Could this battle have already been lost on some previous 'pivot point'?
Well thought out.
As we say in church, "Let us Pray".
Well written and very sound.
Outstanding, as usual - thank you!
Anonymous, that battle was indeed lost, but not the war. The idea of America was never abandoned. And so we have a chance to go once more into the breach.
You make a lot of good points, but I think treating Napoleon's remark as an axiom is an error. Napoleon may have been basically correct for the kind of battles he fought, but the tendency for there to be a decisive key point doesn't scale.
I'm a fairly strong player of the game of Go. Go is typically played on a 19x19 board, but it's also fairly common to play on 13x13 and 9x9 boards, especially when first learning. One of the things players need to learn as they move to bigger boards is how to balance the different skirmishes to win the global battle. While sometimes the balance is as simple as finding the single skirmish whose importance dominates all others, usually the balance is a lot more subtle than that. Prioritizing is still vital, but expecting one priority to naturally far outweigh all the others will sometimes lead you badly astray even on a 9x9 board and will regularly lead you badly astray on a 19x19 board.
I have much less experience, but still a significant amount, playing old Avalon-Hill-style tabletop wargames. It seems to me that the same pattern applies there: if you design increasingly large scenarios for e.g. Squad Leader, it probably becomes decreasingly likely that at any given time in the scenario there will be a single decisive point.
In history the pattern isn't as clear: there's no clean way to increase the scale of a historical conflict and look for a changed tendency to create key points. However, I think historical evidence is at least consistent with the scaling tendency I've described. Note also that in a big historical struggle, some of the contenders for decisive key point aren't at all obvious at the time. E.g., in the long struggle between the Islamic east and the Christian-fading-to-secular west of Europe and nearby Eurasia, I'd nominate the Glorious Revolution, or the work of Newton and the early Royal Society, as at least as decisively important as the obvious-at-the-time military campaigning around Vienna around the same time.
Given how big and complicated the current political struggle is, I'd expect it to be less like Napoleon's battles and more like the long east-west struggle around Europe, or like a game of Squad Leader where you need an indoor basketball court in order to set up the board. At that scale, I'd expect that the tendency for there to be a single decisive point to be washed out pretty badly.
That said, things that have a pervasive effect on most of the battlefield can have a decisive effect even if you play wargames in a basketball court. And in a political struggle, things that affect the perceived legitimacy of the cause can have a pervasive effect on most of the battlefield. And the Right has a history of often being markedly timid about bringing up real-world empirical problems for the left worldview, e.g., a generation of Republicans before Reagan being shy about the gross underperformance of communist regimes and even in-your-face nastiness like the Berlin Wall. It might even be that overcoming the tendency to such timidity is doable and will be decisive. But if it is the decisive key point, it won't be because struggles necessarily have decisive key points, merely because this struggle happens to have one right now.
Thank you for this view of Newt. Definately worth watching!
Never a fan of Ob-Romney, I was leaning a bit toward Santorum. I don't believe Ron Paul can win, so if your are correct about Santorum, Newt Gingrich is the obvious choice.
And NO TELEPROMPTER! :-)
You read Obama incorrectly, which is a fatal flaw. If he wins this election, he won't be crippled, he'll be empowered and wreak unimaginable damage to this country.
Look at what he's doing now, with a re-election campaign looming.
Imagine what he'll do if he's a four year lame duck President, even if there are Republican majorities in both houses.
Don Quixote was an entertaining story, but it's no way to run an election.
Romney will be restrained by a Republican Congress in a way that Obama won't.
I liked your thoughts and agree with most of your sentiments, BP - and some of your readers comments concerned me...well worth the read.
I'd be fine with a dozen Ron Paul's in the House and Senate.
I would not be fine with Ron Paul in the White House.
It's also important to look at the primaries as key places to make real change -- to vote in new blood and new thoughts into Congress through the nominees for House and Senate. If we let ourselves get too focused on the "November election" we'll be saddled with Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber to choose from in those races.
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