The Decline and Fall of the American Empire

by Steven Pruzansky

The most charitable way of explaining the election results of 2012 is that Americans voted for the status quo – for the incumbent President and for a divided Congress. They must enjoy gridlock, partisanship, incompetence, economic stagnation and avoidance of responsibility. And fewer people voted. As I write, with almost all the votes counted, President Obama has won fewer votes than John McCain won in 2008, and more than ten million off his own 2008 total.

But as we awake from the nightmare, it is important to eschew the facile explanations for the Romney defeat that will prevail among the chattering classes. Romney did not lose because of the effects of Hurricane Sandy that devastated this area, nor did he lose because he ran a poor campaign, nor did he lose because the Republicans could have chosen better candidates, nor did he lose because Obama benefited from a slight uptick in the economy due to the business cycle.

Romney lost because he didn’t get enough votes to win.

That might seem obvious, but not for the obvious reasons. Romney lost because the conservative virtues – the traditional American virtues – of liberty, hard work, free enterprise, private initiative and aspirations to moral greatness – no longer inspire or animate a majority of the electorate. The notion of the “Reagan Democrat” is one cliché that should be permanently retired.

Ronald Reagan himself could not win an election in today’s America.

The simplest reason why Romney lost was because it is impossible to compete against free stuff. Every businessman knows this; that is why the “loss leader” or the giveaway is such a powerful marketing tool. Obama’s America is one in which free stuff is given away: the adults among the 47,000,000 on food stamps clearly recognized for whom they should vote, and so they did, by the tens of millions; those who – courtesy of Obama – receive two full years of unemployment benefits (which, of course, both disincentivizes looking for work and also motivates people to work off the books while collecting their windfall) surely know for whom to vote; so too those who anticipate “free” health care, who expect the government to pay their mortgages, who look for the government to give them jobs. The lure of free stuff is irresistible.

Imagine two restaurants side by side. One sells its customers fine cuisine at a reasonable price, and the other offers a free buffet, all-you-can-eat as long as supplies last. Few – including me – could resist the attraction of the free food. Now imagine that the second restaurant stays in business because the first restaurant is forced to provide it with the food for the free buffet, and we have the current economy, until, at least, the first restaurant decides to go out of business. (Then, the government takes over the provision of free food to its patrons.)

The defining moment of the whole campaign was the revelation (by the amoral Obama team) of the secretly-recorded video in which Romney acknowledged the difficulty of winning an election in which “47% of the people” start off against him because they pay no taxes and just receive money – “free stuff” – from the government. Almost half of the population has no skin in the game – they don’t care about high taxes, promoting business, or creating jobs, nor do they care that the money for their free stuff is being borrowed from their children and from the Chinese. They just want the free stuff that comes their way at someone else’s expense. In the end, that 47% leaves very little margin for error for any Republican, and does not bode well for the future.

It is impossible to imagine a conservative candidate winning against such overwhelming odds. People do vote their pocketbooks. In essence, the people vote for a Congress who will not raise their taxes, and for a President who will give them free stuff, never mind who has to pay for it.

That engenders the second reason why Romney lost: the inescapable conclusion that the electorate is dumb – ignorant, and uninformed. Indeed, it does not pay to be an informed voter, because most other voters – the clear majority – are unintelligent and easily swayed by emotion and raw populism. That is the indelicate way of saying that too many people vote with their hearts and not their heads. That is why Obama did not have to produce a second term agenda, or even defend his first-term record. He needed only to portray Mitt Romney as a rapacious capitalist who throws elderly women over a cliff, when he is not just snatching away their cancer medication, while starving the poor and cutting taxes for the rich. Obama could get away with saying that “Romney wants the rich to play by a different set of rules” – without ever defining what those different rules were; with saying that the “rich should pay their fair share” – without ever defining what a “fair share” is; with saying that Romney wants the poor, elderly and sick to “fend for themselves” – without even acknowledging that all these government programs are going bankrupt, their current insolvency only papered over by deficit spending. Obama could get away with it because he knew he was talking to dunces waving signs and squealing at any sight of him.

During his 1956 presidential campaign, a woman called out to Adlai Stevenson: “Senator, you have the vote of every thinking person!” Stevenson called back: “That’s not enough, madam, we need a majority!” Truer words were never spoken.

Similarly, Obama (or his surrogates) could hint to blacks that a Romney victory would lead them back into chains and proclaim to women that their abortions and birth control would be taken away. He could appeal to Hispanics that Romney would have them all arrested and shipped to Mexico (even if they came from Cuba or Honduras), and unabashedly state that he will not enforce the current immigration laws. He could espouse the furtherance of the incestuous relationship between governments and unions – in which politicians ply the unions with public money, in exchange for which the unions provide the politicians with votes, in exchange for which the politicians provide more money and the unions provide more votes, etc., even though the money is gone. He could do and say all these things because he knew his voters were dolts.

One might reasonably object that not every Obama supporter could be unintelligent. But they must then rationally explain how the Obama agenda can be paid for, aside from racking up multi-trillion dollar deficits. “Taxing the rich” does not yield even 10% of what is required – so what is the answer, i.e., an intelligent answer?

Obama also knows that the electorate has changed – that whites will soon be a minority in America (they’re already a minority in California) and that the new immigrants to the US are primarily from the Third World and do not share the traditional American values that attracted immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries. It is a different world, and a different America. Obama is part of that different America, knows it, and knows how to tap into it. That is why he won.

Obama also proved again that negative advertising works, invective sells, and harsh personal attacks succeed. That Romney never engaged in such diatribes points to his essential goodness as a person; his “negative ads” were simple facts, never personal abuse – facts about high unemployment, lower take-home pay, a loss of American power and prestige abroad, a lack of leadership, etc. As a politician, though, Romney failed because he did not embrace the devil’s bargain of making unsustainable promises, and by talking as the adult and not the adolescent. Obama has spent the last six years campaigning; even his governance has been focused on payoffs to his favored interest groups. The permanent campaign also won again, to the detriment of American life.

It turned out that it was not possible for Romney and Ryan – people of substance, depth and ideas – to compete with the shallow populism and platitudes of their opponents. Obama mastered the politics of envy – of class warfare – never reaching out to Americans as such but to individual groups, and cobbling together a winning majority from these minority groups. Conservative ideas failed to take root and states that seemed winnable, and amenable to traditional American values, have simply disappeared from the map. If an Obama could not be defeated – with his record and his vision of America, in which free stuff seduces voters – it is hard to envision any change in the future. The road to Hillary Clinton in 2016 and to a European-socialist economy – those very economies that are collapsing today in Europe – is paved.

A second cliché that should be retired is that America is a center-right country. It clearly is not. It is a divided country with peculiar voting patterns, and an appetite for free stuff. Studies will invariably show that Republicans in Congress received more total votes than Democrats in Congress, but that means little. The House of Representatives is not truly representative of the country. That people would vote for a Republican Congressmen or Senator and then Obama for President would tend to reinforce point two above: the empty-headedness of the electorate. Americans revile Congress but love their individual Congressmen. Go figure.

The mass media’s complicity in Obama’s re-election cannot be denied. One example suffices. In 2004, CBS News forged a letter in order to imply that President Bush did not fulfill his Air National Guard service during the Vietnam War, all to impugn Bush and impair his re-election prospects. In 2012, President Obama insisted – famously – during the second debate that he had stated all along that the Arab attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi was “terror” (a lie that Romney fumbled and failed to exploit). Yet, CBS News sat on a tape of an interview with Obama in which Obama specifically avoided and rejected the claim of terrorism – on the day after the attack – clinging to the canard about the video. (This snippet of a “60 Minutes” interview was not revealed – until two days ago!) In effect, CBS News fabricated evidence in order to harm a Republican president, and suppressed evidence in order to help a Democratic president. Simply shameful, as was the media’s disregard of any scandal or story that could have jeopardized the Obama re-election.

One of the more irritating aspects of this campaign was its limited focus, odd in light of the billions of dollars spent. Only a few states were contested, a strategy that Romney adopted, and that clearly failed. The Democrat begins any race with a substantial advantage. The liberal states – like the bankrupt California and Illinois – and other states with large concentrations of minority voters as well as an extensive welfare apparatus, like New York, New Jersey and others – give any Democratic candidate an almost insurmountable edge in electoral votes. In New Jersey, for example, it literally does not pay for a conservative to vote. It is not worth the fuel expended driving to the polls. As some economists have pointed generally, and it resonates here even more, the odds are greater that a voter will be killed in a traffic accident on his way to the polls than that his vote will make a difference in the election. It is an irrational act. That most states are uncompetitive means that people are not amenable to new ideas, or new thinking, or even having an open mind. If that does not change, and it is hard to see how it can change, then the die is cast. America is not what it was, and will never be again.

For Jews, mostly assimilated anyway and staunch Democrats, the results demonstrate again that liberalism is their Torah. Almost 70% voted for a president widely perceived by Israelis and most committed Jews as hostile to Israel. They voted to secure Obama’s future at America’s expense and at Israel’s expense – in effect, preferring Obama to Netanyahu by a wide margin. A dangerous time is ahead. Under present circumstances, it is inconceivable that the US will take any aggressive action against Iran and will more likely thwart any Israeli initiative. That Obama’s top aide Valerie Jarrett (i.e., Iranian-born Valerie Jarrett) spent last week in Teheran is not a good sign. The US will preach the importance of negotiations up until the production of the first Iranian nuclear weapon – and then state that the world must learn to live with this new reality. As Obama has committed himself to abolishing America’s nuclear arsenal, it is more likely that that unfortunate circumstance will occur than that he will succeed in obstructing Iran’s plans.

Obama’s victory could weaken Netanyahu’s re-election prospects, because Israelis live with an unreasonable – and somewhat pathetic – fear of American opinion and realize that Obama despises Netanyahu. A Likud defeat – or a diminution of its margin of victory – is more probable now than yesterday. That would not be the worst thing. Netanyahu, in fact, has never distinguished himself by having a strong political or moral backbone, and would be the first to cave to the American pressure to surrender more territory to the enemy and acquiesce to a second (or third, if you count Jordan) Palestinian state. A new US Secretary of State named John Kerry, for example (he of the Jewish father) would not augur well. Netanyahu remains the best of markedly poor alternatives. Thus, the likeliest outcome of the upcoming Israeli elections is a center-left government that will force itself to make more concessions and weaken Israel – an Oslo III.

But this election should be a wake-up call to Jews. There is no permanent empire, nor is there is an enduring haven for Jews anywhere in the exile. The most powerful empires in history all crumbled – from the Greeks and the Romans to the British and the Soviets. None of the collapses were easily foreseen, and yet they were predictable in retrospect.

The American empire began to decline in 2007, and the deterioration has been exacerbated in the last five years. This election only hastens that decline. Society is permeated with sloth, greed, envy and materialistic excess. It has lost its moorings and its moral foundations. The takers outnumber the givers, and that will only increase in years to come. Across the world, America under Bush was feared but not respected. Under Obama, America is neither feared nor respected. Radical Islam has had a banner four years under Obama, and its prospects for future growth look excellent. The “Occupy” riots across this country in the last two years were mere dress rehearsals for what lies ahead – years of unrest sparked by the increasing discontent of the unsuccessful who want to seize the fruits and the bounty of the successful, and do not appreciate the slow pace of redistribution.

Two bright sides: Notwithstanding the election results, I arose the morning, went to shul, davened and learned Torah afterwards. That is our reality, and that trumps all other events. Our relationship with G-d matters more than our relationship with any politician, R or D. And, notwithstanding the problems in Israel, it is time for Jews to go home, to Israel. We have about a decade, perhaps 15 years, to leave with dignity and without stress. Thinking that it will always be because it always was has been a repetitive and deadly Jewish mistake. America was always the land from which “positive” aliya came – Jews leaving on their own, and not fleeing a dire situation. But that can also change. The increased aliya in the last few years is partly attributable to young people the high cost of Jewish living in America. Those costs will only increase in the coming years. We should draw the appropriate conclusions.

If this election proves one thing, it is that the Old America is gone. And, sad for the world, it is not coming back.

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is the spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, New Jersey. He practiced law for 13 years as a general practitioner and litigator in New York City until assuming his current pulpit. This essay earlier appeared on his blog.

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115 comments to The Decline and Fall of the American Empire

  • Alex Schindler

    Kudos to Professor Charles Hall for his well-reasoned and succinct rebuttals of claims in the article. And commenter “Chakira” seems to have succeeded in identifying if not the genesis of some of the errors of fact or useless invective, at least its proximate source. I also appreciate those commenters who expressed their discomfort with rabbis making their congregants uncomfortable knowing that they are now beHezqath dumb-and-greedy, or in general with the aggressively ad hominem style — a criticism many Romney supporters had the intellectual integrity to make as well.

    As for Professor David Luchins, I second the request that you write a rebuttal — not to be a sore winner, but to show the Orthodox community how a dissenting political opinion can be expressed with facts, data, analysis, and a distinct lack of vitriol.

  • ASC

    To be fair to Rabbi Pruzansky, other great Americans have also worried that new immigrants do not share our values and as a result contribute to the decline of America.

    In fact, one of them famously wrote, “[P]resently, Americans who thought they were secure in their own city, were aware of an advancing shadow. A subtle atmosphere of deterioration became evident. In the top lofts of buildings, sweatshops had been installed, which noon and night poured into the streets an alien stream — not a
    glad, hopeful-eyed immigrant rejoicing to be in America and at work, but something darker.”

    The writer, unfortunately, was Henry Ford, and his subject was Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.

    Ford continues in a vein that I think the rabbi and his supporters might appreciate: “There is a mass of moving stories (mostly written by Jews, by the way) pretending to describe the glowing hearts with which these throngs look out upon America, their intense longing to be American, their love of our people and our institutions. Most unfortunately, the actions of these people and the utterances of their leaders give the lie to this fair picture which, as Americans, we would fain believe. The resistance offered to Americanization, consisting in the limitations put upon the Americanization program, has been sufficient to convince all observers that, so far as the Jewish invasion is concerned, it is not their desire
    to go the way America is going, but to influence America to go the way they are going. They talk a great deal of what they bring to America, hardly anything at all of what they found here. America is presented to them as a big piece of putty to be molded as they desire, not as a benign mother who is able and willing to make these aliens to be like her own children. The doctrine that the United States is nothing definite as yet, that it is only a free-for-all opportunity to make it what you will, is one of the most
    distinctive of Jewish teachings.” (The International Jew, p. 298)

  • Robin Benoff

    Chazak chaZack for being so forthright and such an outspoken advocate of Israel and aliya.

  • David F.

    While I can understand why some take issue with Rabbi Pruzansky’s direct manner of writing, and why others are troubled by his actual sentiments, I can’t say that I share their sentiments. His points, while perhaps inelegant, are all worth contemplating. One need not agree with each one to understand that he’s making some important points and that we’d best not sit back and believe that all is well in the good ole USA. It’s not and there are multiple reasons for this. The national debt is spiraling out of control, the economy is not doing well at the moment, far too many people are jobless, and Israel is being threatened by a terrible enemy who seeks to obtain weapons that will make it possible to wipe it off the face of the earth.
    These are all facts and scary ones at that. Could Romney have fixed all these problems? Of course not. Can Obama? Also not. Yet, for many of us, the prospects of another four years under a president who has dissappointed in so many of these areas is not a happy one. I, too, was very disillusioned when Obama won and many of feelings mirrored those of Rabbi Pruz.
    I commend him for taking the time to put his thoughts to paper, place his name on it knowing that he would offend many, and reminding us that we have much to daven for especially now. His article certainly reminded me in no uncertain terms that אין לנו על מי להשען אלא על אבינו שבשמים!

  • David Gold

    Thank You Rabbi Steven Pruzansky for your well thought, explained and detailed analysis of the current socio-political situation in the United States of America.

  • L. Oberstein

    105 comments is a record as far as I can recall! I am so glad that we live in the liberal democracy of the USA where there is freedom of speech and of conscience. Even speech that offends is allowed . I would not want to live in a world of certainty where only one political or religious philosophy was allowed. Judaism is a great religion. We may argue but we don’t kill heretics or even socialists.
    The sour grapes of the losing Party are not becoming adult behavior. Get over it and move on. Could it be that there are even readers of Cross-Currents who agree with Grover Norquist or who welcome the Fiscal Cliff rather than “compromise” on their conservative beliefs. America is great specifically because we have tolerance and believe in compromise. I have heard on the radio more than one expert say that Dwight Eisenhauer and Ronald Reagan could not get nominated in today’s Tea Party Republican Party. That is why I wonder why any thinking Jew would so throughly go over to one side that they would not see the fallacy of fanatic clinging to either political party. Rabbi Pruzansky stepped over the line by demeaning millions of Americans who do not share his opinion. I think he is wrong but I never would say he is stupid or lazy.

  • Queen Esther

    @L. Oberstein – Raising taxes on the “rich” will destroy more jobs. If Republicans “compromise” on this point, America will continue on its inevitable decline and go off the fiscal cliff. I don’t see serious spending cuts, which would avoid raising taxes, coming from the liberal democrats. Where is there any “compromise” coming from them?

  • Queen Esther

    Rabbi Pruzansky is warning the Jewish people just like many did in the ’30′s. He is one of the few Rabbis that speak out on the dangers of the Obama administration. He is to be commended and heeded. And just like in the 30′s people did not believe those who were warning them. (This is not to say we are headed for the same fate – but the possibility exists.)

    As the psalmist so wisely stated, Psalm 115:4 – “Which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not;” like the idols they served.”

    President Obama told his base, “Vote for revenge.” Mitt Romney said, “Vote for love of country.” The people voted for revenge. I suppose that’s what we will get.

  • Queen Esther

    The Obama campaign used Alinsky style tactics against Romney- smearing the other side and calling them liars, the “war on women,” “binders,” class warfare, etc. They used these tactics because Obama could not stand on his record of high unemployment, 16 trillion in debt (6 trillion of his own making in the last 4 years – the most of any president,) failed foreign policy (Islamic fundamentalism spread throughout the Middle East), more people in poverty, triple A credit rating downgraded, etc. Rabbi Pruzansky should be commended for his courage to stand up for the truth.

  • Gail Abramson

    This essay is painful. It is pessimistic. It is powerful. And, alas, it is the truth. While I think that newer immigrants have been painted with too broad a brush, and that many have the same aspirations our grandparents did when they came to these shores, everything else rings true.

  • HESHY BYLMAN

    Re: L. Oberstein.
    You are dead wrong, as are all the other Lib commentators, re: Reagan.
    Reagan most certainly would have been nominated even by the Tea Party people. He was no less conservative in any of his positions than Mitt Romney, certainly. However, there is no way on this earth that he could have won the Presidency, given the current dumbed down electorate. Think about that – focus on it – If Romney was good enough for the Tea Party people, Reagan certainly would have been.

  • Reb Yid

    The most charitable way of explaining the election results of 2012 is that Americans voted for the status quo – for the incumbent President and for a divided Congress. They must enjoy gridlock, partisanship, incompetence, economic stagnation and avoidance of responsibility. And fewer people voted. As I write, with almost all the votes counted, President Obama has won fewer votes than John McCain won in 2008, and more than ten million off his own 2008 total.

    To shed some much needed light (and sugar) on this sourest of sour grapes:

    The votes keep on coming. And coming. Apparently this blogger, in his haste to judgement, is not aware that counting votes takes time. Some states vote by mail. Many others have provisional or affidavit ballots to tabulate. And then there’s the not small matter of areas affected by Hurricane Sandy.

    To make a long story short, President Obama currently has 6 million more votes–far eclipsing McCain’s 2008 vote total, with a dozen more states yet to certify their ballots. Some of those, including Arizona, Oregon, California, New Jersey and Colorado, will further boost Obama’s totals and overall margin (currently at 51% to 47%).

    And then there’s the not small matter of New York, which has also yet to certify its totals. The overall Presidential vote is currently down 2.25% (and shrinking), or a little under 3 million votes, from the 2008 Presidential totals. But New York’s differential here–far lower than any other state, at -16%, accounts for 1.2 million of that total (or 41% of the total deficit). We can safely assume that Hurricane Sandy accounts for the bulk of this difference, and that surely the President would have picked up many hundreds of thousands of votes.

    Facts are stubborn things. I will post the link to these data, which is from David Wasserman of the non-partisan Cook Report, but in case the editors decide not to post it, Google “David Wasserman” “redistrict” and “spreadsheet”.

  • Queen Esther

    Reb Yid – There was massive voter fraud in this election. I don’t know if we will ever know the true vote count.

  • Queen Esther

    Interesting article in WND. Excerpt from this article – “Did Obama win with any kind of mandate? No. Despite all the vote fraud, despite a mass media that buried scandal after scandal while vilifying Obama’s opponents, despite a massive and growing welfare state buying off voters by the millions with endless giveaways, despite a political narrative unrelenting in its viciousness and dishonesty, …….Obama won with only a 3 percent margin.”

  • Reb Yid

    QE–are you aware of the voter ID laws that were passed with the explicit intent of suppressing the vote and intimidating voters who would tend to vote Democratic? We have the heads of the Pennsylvania and Florida Republican party on record about this–it’s no secret.

    Or that certain states tried as much as possible to curtail early voting? And that some sent out voting information in Spanish that indicated the incorrect date of the election? And that some had to stand in line for more than 6 hours to cast a ballot?

    The truth is, if the US was like many other countries and made Election Day a national holiday (we could simply combine Labor Day and Election Day) we would see far more voters.

    Of course, you can be sure that one party and one party alone would do everything in its power to block this.