“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” — Ecclesiastes 1:9
This is true even in politics. Maybe especially in politics, where the recycling of bad and good decisions reflects the recycling, according to democratic practice, of bad and good leaders.
As the Russians push their imperial agenda in the Ukraine, and Western leaders wring their hands, the ’70s come painfully to mind.
I bring up the ’70s — of god-awful memory — as much to nourish hope as to enlarge perspective on current events in the world and the nation along with it.
As the hearing-aid set — of which your servant is a certificate-holding member — will recall, the ’70s began with the U.S. in decline, at home and abroad. Inflation and fast-rising energy costs looked uncontrollable. The Nixon administration’s response was wage-price controls — an expedient never successful anywhere. A long, bloody, divisive and essentially futile war in Southeast Asia was winding down. It remained only to negotiate our exit costs.
In this environment of American weakness and confusion, enemies pounced. The Iranians seized our embassy in Tehran. The Russians invaded Afghanistan.
The cycle of decline and fall was arrested, and then reversed, in the ’80s. Having seen what didn’t work in foreign policy — American guilt, American disengagement — America, during the Reagan presidency, re-engaged. And, having done so, won the Cold War. In economic terms, the government stepped back, cut tax rates, eased various regulations and returned to the free marketplace some of its old-time flexibility. Things began working again.
They worked, that is, until “the thing that hath been” cruised back by the crime scene to test the shortness of our memories. Sure enough, around the year 2008, circumstances found the U.S. largely immobilized by the experience of war and the mistakes that seem to go with freedom and prosperity.
Under the guiding hand of Barack Obama, the old policies came back — guilt, disengagement from responsibilities, pessimism as to American ideals and capabilities, resentment of economic success; a variety of mannerisms and anxieties that predict bad decision-making at the top.