I probably shouldn't blog in the frustrated mood I find myself in, but a thought keeps demanding its way out of my brain, which is somewhere between self-pitying fatalism and a fact. It was brought out by this profile of NY Times columnist Ross Douthat in the liberal magazine Mother Jones. Essentially, the writer notes that Douthat is a thoughtful, intelligent conservative, and then dismisses his beliefs and ideas as totally irrelevant to the way the country is governed.
I'd like to argue this is untrue, but the reality is that our entire system of governance seems to be based on a basic understanding: Liberals (or Progressives, which here might be the more appropriate term) will push as rapidly as possible to expand the reach of the state into the lives of individuals, and conservatives will use their time in office to lower taxes and loosen a few business regulations, juicing the economy so it looks prosperous enough to manage the next progressive encroachment.
The genius of the United States (and really the English political culture that spawned it) was to accept that people could, in a society of laws, learn the rules and basically manage for themselves. But the essential post-Depression shift has said that people can't take care of themselves, and the government needs to be there to prop them up. But when that assumption applies not just to the relatively small number of people who really can't take care of themselves, but to a majority that could but would find it easier not to, the government needs to take on powers inconsistent with a basically free nation.
In a way, I think, the retirement of the Baby Boomers represents America's retirement. As a society, we're going to increasingly be living on the savings, if you will, that we made over hundreds of years of entrepreneurial risk-taking and non-intrusive government. The only problem is that retirees either die or go bankrupt. Countries, except in the most tragic of scenarios, lack the first option.