After 9/11 President George W. Bush told the American people to go shopping and behave normally. In short: forget that you will never again be free to live as before. Think about money. This advice followed naturally from the government's decision to persist in its ways instead of lifting terrorism's burden from America. What might have happened if, instead, Bush had told Americans that the terror threat would not last forever, because their government would now undertake some expensive military operations that would soon allow normal life to resume? To support those operations the government would have had to cut back other spending and perhaps raise some taxes. No doubt, in fall 2001 the American people would have accepted these sacrifices. But they would have demanded results. Since the administration was not about to try that, it sought to satisfy the American people with the pretend-safety of "homeland security," with images of U.S. troops in combat, and perhaps above all with domestic prosperity fueled by record-low interest rates and massive deficit-spending. This pretend-prosperity aimed not only to anesthetize criticism of endless war, but also to feed both political parties' many constituencies—the ruling class's standard procedure. Both parties joined in expanding federal guarantees for sub-prime mortgages, subsidies for education, alternative fuels, and countless activities dear to well-connected players. Both parties congratulated themselves for establishing new entitlements for prescription drugs and for medical care for children. When the "great recession" began in 2007 Democrats blamed Republicans' excessive spending on "the wars," while Republicans blamed it on Democrats' excessive spending on everything else. Both are correct, and both are responsible.
Ten years after 9/11, America is not at peace, is poorer, less civil, and less hopeful. But the experts are in charge as never before. In the American political marketplace of 2012, the American ruling class's stock is at a historic low. President Obama and nearly all who vie to replace him try to disassociate themselves from the decisions of the past decade. So do most of our elites. But since none explains and accuses his own errors, it is by no means clear whether any have learned from their mistakes. More important is what the rest of the country may or may not have learned. For us to understand how these mostly intelligent people could have made errors so big for so long requires understanding the principles they violated, and the moral as well as the intellectual dimensions of their errors. More difficult yet, both intellectually and morally, is the essential task of explaining the hard choices that will be required to deal with the troubles bequeathed us by this decade of defeat.Wow, even in my darkest moments of self-doubt I have trouble reaching that deep. Thing is - in many ways, I can't disagree with most of his points.
One thing I do know though is this; we could be in a worse place if we did less - it could have been better if we did more; or the other way around. We don't know, do we? What we do know is where we are. What we need to focus on is how to make things better and to avoid repeating our mistakes.
Even with all this - worse nations have prospered after worse mistakes. We'll get there; we'll just have to work for it.
Hat tip SWJ.