At times like these, it is easy for those who love liberty to lose hope.
Let us take account of the general situation.
The administration and Congress have responded to the financial collapses on Wall Street with unprecedented power grabs and staggeringly humungous bailouts. The Fed is taking on a new role in directly propping up businesses. The Treasury now has dictatorial powers over finance. More is promised to come. Both McCain and Obama vow not to continue the supposedly laissez faire approach of the Bush years, which have in reality, even before the "rescue" plan, corresponded to the largest expansion of U.S. government power in two or more generations.
Meanwhile, the war on terror continues. Iraq, including in the north, is still a hotbed of violence. Afghanistan is a mess. U.S. diplomacy toward North Korea has yielded some frightening results. And America’s power elite and new prospective rulers promise nothing but more belligerence against the world, from Russia to Pakistan and beyond.
Even after the Supreme Court’s encouraging habeas corpus ruling, we see Guantanamo detainees being stripped of their rights in mock trials. The government’s wiretapping powers have recently been expanded to never before seen levels of intrusiveness and brazen lawlessness.
Civil liberties as a whole are in the toilet. Martial law is being threatened as a political tool against legislators, and the people. Nearly all constitutional and statutory restrictions against government abuse have been compromised. Torture persists.
And everything we hated about big government even before the nightmarish two terms of Bush remains, or has been increased. The welfare state lives on, only ornamented by Bush’s Medicare package. The war on drugs is as terrible as ever. Our prisons are overflowing with peaceful people, more so than in any other nation on earth.
Americans for the most part are looking for hope in Obama, or even, for those who cannot stand him and somehow still tolerate the Republicans and the war, in McCain. But deep inside, most know that the improvements they expect from the next administration are not revolutionary. People desperately want a return to the 1990s, but would settle for less.
And this is where we can find some hope. The state is being discredited ever more. Yes, the news media and court intellectuals, maybe even the majority, are misdiagnosing the problem. They want to blame this on the market.
But there is a realism coming through as well. Obama concedes he can’t do all the spending he wants, as he calls McCain’s newest mortgage plan a reckless monstrosity. The public agrees.
Almost no one is talking about the global war on terror as they once did. No one seems to think the U.S. can rush in and liberate the world, now that they see the utter folly and deceit in Washington as it concerns their own pocketbooks.
The talking heads are utterly baffled. How can the bailout not have worked? Why is the market continuing to decline? Is another New Deal necessary?
But by “New Deal,” they do not mean what the New Dealers did. They might mean subsidies and public works programs — a horrible idea — but few are recommending nationalizing agriculture, comprehensive price floors or the like. There is an awe that even the liberal intellectuals have as they look upon Bush’s mega-state and try to keep a straight face as they swear it is too small.
By many polls, Obama is leading, but is in the mid-40s. The average American doesn’t expect a whole lot from either man. The conservatives back McCain because they detest Obama’s perceived radicalism or for other cultural reasons. But they don’t like him. There is more enthusiasm on the left for their candidate, but not as much as there was only months ago.
Finally, take a look at the big picture. History has no true golden eras. Stagnation, unjust authority, slavery, poverty and oppression are the rule in the story of humanity. It was only though many centuries of intellectual and cultural development that human civilization overcame the tyranny of antiquity and embraced the doctrines of liberalism. Liberty is always in peril. Today is no exception. But it is still hardly the worst time to be alive, for the average person.
Take heart. In the long-term, after all, we are the optimists. The Hobbesians on the right believe humanity is forever doomed to be immoral, thus the need for ever more prisons, police and war. The left finds society dysfunctional when acting on its own without centralized coercive organization. They are both on the side of reaction and pessimism. We on the other hand believe in a flourishing and peaceful tomorrow, thanks to voluntary commercial and cultural exchange.
Even in the short term, we have an opportunity here. The Iraq war is a clear failure, despite the last year of delusions about the "surge." The Bush administration and McCain have discredited the GOP for much of the American right. Obama is a new face and gives hope to many, but most who will vote for him will do so out of default. Even the masses of voters know the election means only so much, the propaganda of both parties notwithstanding.
In the last couple weeks we saw a populist uprising against the bailout. Nothing was so inspiring for libertarians since the mass demonstrations against the Iraq war and the excitement generated by the Ron Paul campaign, a campaign that was on the right side of the twin issues of our day: corporatism and militarism. Those who stood up for liberty in these dark times will be remembered for many years.
Have hope. We are on the right side of history. It will take some time before that fact is clear. But it always does.
Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is a writer and musician who lives in Berkeley, California. He is a research analyst at the Independent Institute. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.